The English Patient

I just finished reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. It was a good novel, I’m even tempted to watch the movie. Two things stood out for me; the point about Kip eating condensed milk and the last scene with the English patient. Condensed milk is a staple in my family, though it’s pretty foreign to most North Americans, so it was cool seeing it referenced. I even remember eating the stuff like a candy, obviously secretly because my mom didn’t approve, as Kip and the English patient do. Funny thing about the copy of the book I’ve had – I borrowed it from someone in high school for a project I never bothered to do and never ended up reading the novel until now. Obviously I never returned the book either. It was finally good to read the novel after lugging it through one house move, high school, 2 institutions of higher learning, and a whole load of years. Now I want to finish the second book I borrowed along with this one, For Whom The Bell Tolls by Hemingway. Don’t worry Julio one day I will return your books to you. lols.

SPOILER ALERT, I want to mention a couple of things in story I had problems with here and so might be spoiling the story for you who haven’t read it. You have been warned.

First of all, for me Kip was one of the most underdeveloped major characters of all time – I would understand an underdeveloped brown character in a narrative by a non-South Asian author, but an important Indian character who is underdeveloped in a narrative by Michael Ondaatje surprised me. Simply put, Kip’s attraction to Hana was never explained explicitly – what he found so attractive about her and why he loved her. Even more confusing because Ondaatje does$n’t often show Hana in a very emotionally or physically flattering light; she just seemed another tragically broken human being in a long list of broken characters. Caravaggio‘s strong feelings for her were far more fleshed out; To me it seemed more understandable if Caravaggio had had a relationship with Hana. I understand that Kip was obviously used as a foil to show British-Indian and West-East relations; but the dropping of the Atomic bomb and Kip’s reaction to it seemed more like a case of “deus ex machina” to break up the sort of “out of time and out of place” relationships and community of the villa. Personally I didn’t get a sense of why Kip reacted so strongly – even though the idea that American’s used the Atomic bomb against Japan because it was a non-white country rings true. First I personally didn’t think that Kip, like me would have felt such a personal connection with the Japanese. Most Indians don’t relate with the Japenese any better then they would with Africans or Russians. Especially the void would be greater because the Japanese weren’t apart of the British empire. I guess the sentiment also fell short for me because of my own prior reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 which brought light to the Dresden bombing where an allies “bombing raid created a firestorm that destroyed the city and killed an estimated 135,000 people, almost all of them civilians. This was nearly twice the number of people killed by the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”( I just didn’t think Kip would have left Hana so suddenly because of the Atomic bomb, or was that just another element of the vagueness about Kip’s feelings toward Hana in the first place? Of course I also realize these are the criticisms that a South Asian reader might have toward a South Asian writer. But personal stereotypes and desires aside – the highlight was the English Patient and his final moments with Kip, the real tragedy in the whole novel. A moment when men who would wish to forget the limitations of races,borders and nations are finally separated by them.

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