The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
320 p Vintage Publishing
The English Patient is a beautifully written novel, using language as paint on an impressionistic canvas. Though the book's title lends several preconceptions, the book actually centers around four quite different characters sheltering in an Italian villa at the apex of World War II, when the war had moved far from Italy. The characters' one similarity is a crisis of identity: an Indian bomb-diffuser who has been assimilated into British culture, a Canadian nurse hiding from her past, a thief who has lost his thumbs, and the English patient who may not actually be English. The plot's twists hold few shocking revelations, but the book's greatest joy lies in the dreamlike atmosphere it creates and the beautifully abstract sketches of characters it presents.