Does The English Patient follow a linear story structure? In other words, do events happen chronologically? If not, how would you characterize the structure of the novel?
Possible Answer: The English Patient is characterized by a non-linear story structure that follows individual characters for a chapter and incorporates not only their present circumstances, but their past stories as well. Structurally the novel seems resistant to patterns - we're not sure when we'll take a detour with a given character, and chapters do not begin and end with the same character. The book even resists naming a central protagonist.
What is the best explanation for why Katharine Clifton leaves Almasy in the novel and returns to her husband?
Possible Answer: Katharine seems furious over the fact that Almasy isn't publicly devastated over their secret affair. She finds him too easily able to compartmentalize - to be able to turn off and on in a way that means he'll never "own" or "be owned."
Why is Hana so drawn to the English patient? Who does he remind her of? Why is she willing to trade her safety for his company?
Possible Answer: The English patient reminds Hana of her father, who burned in an explosion when she was halfway across the world. Unable to save him because of their geographical distance, Hana has always blamed herself for his death. She attends to the English patient largely so that she can atone for her perceived sins.
What is Kip's initial reason for coming to the villa? Why does he leave?
Possible Answer: Kip comes to the villa because he hears a piano playing and thinks there might be a pencil bomb in the instrument. He is traveling around Italy, and with his expertise in de-mining, he seeks out unsafe places where he can defuse lurking bombs left from WW II.
If one takes Caravaggio out of the novel, it seems to hold up narratively and in terms of emotional impact. What purpose does he serve in the villa? Why is he brought in as an essential character?
Possible Answer: Caravaggio can be seen in a number of contexts, but the most obvious one is as a surrogate father to Hana whom she rejects. He is also immune to the politics of war - something that connects all these characters. In other words, he serves as a point of contrast.
Why is Caravaggio so determined to reveal the English patient's identity? Does the English patient seem particularly afraid of being found out?
Possible Answer: The English patient seems unconcerned with revealing his true identity because he's lost all touch with it, and remembers only his love affair with Katharine as the defining moment of his life. Caravaggio seems determined to reconnect him with his identity in order to prove that he lost his thumbs for a reason.
What is the significance of the moment when Kip catches the fuse box that might explode upon its fall from the shelf?
Possible Answer: The novel resonates with the idea of debt and what is "owed." When Kip catches the fuse box, suddenly Caravaggio - who doesn't seem particularly fond of Kip - owes him his life.
Why does Geoffrey Clifton plan the murder-suicide even though the affair between his wife and Almasy is already over?
Possible Answer: Geoffrey is deeply embarrassed upon discovering the rumors between his wife and Almasy. The embarrassment is enough to send him into a seething, murderous rage.
What is Kip's relationship to his own skin color? Does he feel inferior or superior to the English?
Possible Answer: Kip is sensitive to any form of subservience to the British, so when he discovers that Almasy was involved in British intelligence, he threatens to kill him and flees. He sees the British as the cause for all his latent pain, since they subjugated his race.
Who is Hana ultimately loyal to? The English patient, Caravaggio, or Kip, or someone else?
Possible Answer: Hana's loyalty is to the memory of her father. Until she atones for her guilt over not having saved him from the flames of death, she has no intrinsic loyalties to anyone else.
The English Patient received the Booker Prize for literature in 1992 and became popularly known through the award-winning film of the same title produced in 1996. The novel is an outgrowth of Michael Ondaatje’s other works such as The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), Coming Through Slaughter (1976), and In the Skin of a Lion (1987), which focus on historical figures to convey what might have been, an imaginary reconstruction of the past. Ondaatje’s techniques call attention to the subjectivity of his and all historical accounts, as well as the role feelings and imagination play in conveying “facts” about the past. In his works, including The English Patient, he blurs distinctions between history and fiction, reporting and inventing, reality and myth.
In addition, as with Ondaatje’s other works, The English Patient is postmodern in its complexity. Its narration shifts from past to present, country to country, character to character. Fragments of Western literature and World War II music are interspersed with 1945 conversations between characters or flashbacks to 1939 and the early period of the war. Using multiple settings and characters from diverse national backgrounds, Ondaatje conveys the postcolonial nature of his fictional world: the death of empire; the tragedy of boundaries; the crosscultural, multinational, global experience of his characters; the violence and chaos of twentieth century life.