Printer Friendly

The English Patient.

Candice Sackuvich is a journalist who lives in Kansas City, Kan.

All four main characters in The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf, 1993), came to a bombed-out Italian villa near the end of World War II bearing crosses. Their losses are varied -- from thumbs, to lovers to aching idealism. One character, a thief for the war effort, had been caught, handcuffed to a table leg and his thumbs sawed off. If is tormenters lacked the foresight to realize that without the opposing impediments and with blood as a lubricant, he'd slip out and escape.

The title character, a pilot burned beyond recognition, was less fortunate. He had escaped a burning plane with only his dying life, his married lover having slid away from him like twigs aflame. His nurse is a 20-year-old woman bearing the pain of a much longer lifetime. Her cross is the grave despair caused by a war that took her father and lover, and she had no reason not to stay behind to care for this man who was too ill to be moved when the field hospital disbanded.

About halfway through the book, the author stops describing the characters and their actions and lets them tell their stories, the heartbreakingly deep love stories of a motley group. The patient once said to his nurse, "Love is so small you can tear it through the eye of a needle."

As these stories unfold, another love story is in the making, made richer by the fourth character, a young sapper who defuses bombs. If is greatest job was straddling a bomb down a 20-foot mud hole, bare feet dangling in murky ice water and brow sweating. When a frozen fuse snaps off in his numb fingers, he has only a few minutes to hammer through the metal exterior -- every vibration threatening to set the bomb off -- to cut the inner fuse. He succeeds.

But then the war ended the way it did, and the sappel's reaction made me realize it's better to carry your cross into that good night than to fling it down in bitterness, trading it for nothing.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Sackuvich, Candice
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 19, 1993
Previous Article:While a NAFTA is needed, this is not NAFTA we need.
Next Article:The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters