Congratulations to Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje, whose book The English Patient won the Golden Man Booker Prize on July 8th! For any book-lover, it goes without saying that the Man Booker Prize is one of the most important awards for novels written in English. The Golden Man Booker Prize aims to re-award the most distinguished Booker Prize-winning works in the past fifty years.
Ondaatje’s The English Patient won the prize in 1992 for its great portrayal of the society and mentality during World War II. Defeating the other four works nominated, The English Patient got 9,000 votes and became the winner of The Golden Booker Prize. According to the judge Kamila Shamsie, the novel “moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate–one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert, and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth…It’s intricately and rewardingly structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page.”
Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992)
“There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lovers enter the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in a new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.”
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The novel takes place during World War II. The title of the novel refers the mystery pivoting around the leading character—an injured and amnesiac pilot of a bomber. Severely burned in the accident and then carefully cared for by Hana, a young Canadian army nurse, “the English patient,” (what everyone in the hospital calls him due to his accent,) is searching for his memories. The more pieces of past he collects, the more oscillating the narrative becomes—by this I mean, Ondaatje in this work intellectually explores the boundaries: of time, space, morality, text, gender, and race. Though many people would read this novel as a romance, it is amazing to examine how Ondaatje deals with the issue of “peace”— both inside and outside.
The novel was adapted into a film by Anthony Minghella: The English Patient (1996)
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