The English Patient Book Summary, Themes, Characters & Synopsis

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About the Novel- The English Patient

TitleThe English Patient
AuthorMichael Ondaatje
Publication YearSeptember 1992
PublisherMcClelland and Stewart
No. of Pages324 Pages
GenreHistorical Fiction, War Novel
SettingItaly and North Africa during WWII
Main CharactersAlmásy (The English Patient), Hana, Caravaggio, Kip


The characters of “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje

  1. The English Patient ➜ He’s a man who got badly hurt during the war and can’t remember who he is.
  2. Hana ➜ She’s a nurse taking care of the English patient. She’s kind and caring.
  3. Caravaggio ➜ He’s a guy who used to be a thief and a spy. He comes to the villa looking for information.
  4. Kip ➜ He’s an Indian man who works to defuse bombs for the British Army. He becomes important in the story.


The themes of “The English Patient” are:

  1. Love ➜ The book explores different kinds of love, like romantic love and love for friends, in a time of war.
  2. Identity ➜ It looks at how people find out who they really are, especially when they are in tough situations.
  3. War’s Effects ➜ The story shows how war changes people and places, sometimes forever.
  4. Betrayal ➜ Some characters are not always honest with each other, and this causes problems.
  5. Healing ➜ The book is about healing, not just physical wounds but also emotional ones.
  6. Exploration ➜ It talks about the excitement and danger of exploring new places and ideas.


Michael Ondaatje wrote The English Patient in 1992, which went on to win the Booker Prize & the Governor General’s Award. It was made into a movie in 1996, and at the 69th Academy Awards, it won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The English Patient’s story alternates back and forth between the past and today, between the burnt patient’s pre-accident recollections and contemporary affairs. Additionally, it switches between the points of view of all the primary characters.


In 1945, Hana, a young nurse, is tending a garden at an Italian mansion. Hana stays even though many patients and healthcare workers have left the area since the Germans put explosives and mines hidden everywhere. Her patient was discovered amid the wreckage of an aircraft, and his entire body had been severely burnt. He is quite appreciative that a Bedouin tribe found him, took care of him, and brought him back to a British camp in 1944. Hana frequently reads to him since she thinks he is English. She enjoys playing hopscotch and gardening. She occasionally reads The Histories by Herodotus, the book he always brought with him.

Caravaggio, a different guy, shows up at the estate one day. He is an old friend of Hana’s father, Patrick, and sports bandaged hands. Years ago in Canada, Caravaggio was a burglar. He used those abilities while serving in the military and for British Intelligence in North Africa. His thumbs were severed by the Germans, who also tortured him, rendering his hands all but unusable. Even though he has somewhat healed from the torment he endured, he is now morphine-addicted. He frequently laments Hana’s father’s passing during the conflict.

Two soldiers show up as Hana is practicing her piano. Kip, an Indian Sikh serving in the British army, is here to remove munitions from the area. He wants to look for hidden mines in the piano. Despite the risk of his profession, he gets along well with the English patient and Kip starts to feel like a member of the family. Hana and him start dating.

The patient who speaks English says his name is Almasy. He spent a long time mapping and observing the North African desert. Geoffrey Clifton, an Oxford guy who owned an aircraft, and his wife Katherine joined him in 1936, and they got along well. Katherine and Almasy became involved in a relationship after Katherine fell in love with him. He treated her very poorly in public after the romance ended. Geoffrey nevertheless learned the truth.

Soon after the start of World War II, Almasy, Katherine, and an upset Geoffrey all came dangerously close to dying when the latter attempted to crash his jet into Almasy. Almasy was unharmed, but Geoffrey passed away and Katherine suffered serious injuries. Almasy is obliged to abandon Katherine, who is wrapped in the parachute for warmth, and travel for four days to the closest settlement when they get stuck in the desert. However, he is unable to persuade anybody to assist him in rescuing Katherine since the British believe he is a spy.

He was eventually let free, but Katherine had already lost the battle. He assisted the German spies in Cairo while working for the Germans, and when his vehicle broke down, he made his way back to Katherine’s body on foot. He boarded a plane with her body, but the aircraft malfunctioned & caught fire. Almasy was severely burnt but managed to parachute to safety. The Bedouins came to his aid at this point.

Caravaggio is untrusting of the patient’s English ancestry. He completes the blanks in Almasy’s narrative. Geoffrey was a member of the British Intelligence and was well aware of the situation. They intended to assassinate Almasy because they knew he had aided the Germans. They lost him and are unable to identify him anymore.

Although Kip’s brother had a history of mistrusting the West, he went to serve in the British army cheerfully enough. Lord Suffolk, a genuine gentleman from England, taught him to be a bomb disposal officer and accepted him into his family. Kip had considerable expertise, but after Lord Suffolk & the rest of his crew were murdered while defusing a bomb, Kip left England and went to Italy to work as a sapper.

As a sapper, Kip feels emotionally cut off from everyone. He utilized Hana as a means of reestablishing contact with his humanity when they first met. Hana’s twenty-first birthday is jointly celebrated by all the inhabitants of the Italian villa, and Kip settles into his position as her boyfriend. But as August approaches, Kip hears upsetting news on the radio. The United States of America detonated an atomic bomb on Japan. Kip is furious and finds it impossible to think that a Western nation could ever be capable of committing such a horrible act. He threatens to shoot the English patient, whom he views as a representation of the West, but instead takes off on his motorbike. He doesn’t come back. Years later, he has his own family and works as a physician in India. Despite being content and contented, he is constantly curious about Hana.


What is the point of The English Patient?

The point of The English Patient is that love, memory, and the power of storytelling can help us to heal from trauma and loss.

What was a main conflict in The English Patient?

The English Patient is a novel about the conflict between the past and the present. The characters must learn to let go of their past experiences in order to move on with their lives.

What happened to Katherine’s body in The English Patient?

Katherine’s body is left in a cave in the desert after she dies from injuries sustained in a plane crash. Her lover is unable to carry her out of the desert and leaves to get help, but she dies waiting. Years later, he returns to the cave and finds her body. He attempts to fly her body back to civilization, but the plane catches fire and she is burned in the crash.

Is it worth reading The English Patient?

Yes, I think The English Patient is worth reading. It is a beautiful and moving story, but it is not a light or easy read. It is important to be patient with the novel and pay attention to the details. If you are looking for a well-written story that will stay with you, then I highly recommend it.

What happens to Hana at the end of The English Patient?

At the end of the story, Hana leaves the villa and joins a medical brigade. She is now helping others and has found new purpose in her life.

Was The English Patient Based on a true story?

The English Patient is not a true story, but the character of the English Patient is loosely based on a real person.

About the Auhtor- Michael Ondaatje

NameMichael Ondaatje
Birth DateSeptember 12, 1943
BirthplaceColombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
OccupationNovelist, Poet, and Filmmaker
Famous Works– The English Patient (1992)
– In the Skin of a Lion” (1987)
– Anil’s Ghost (2000)
– Running in the Family (1982)

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