In the Villa San Girolamo, Hana, Kirpal Singh, David Caravaggio, and Count Ladislaus de Almásy, the “English patient” of the novel’s title, come together at the end of World War II. Each is haunted by ghosts of the dead, and each tells stories of how he or she came to be injured physically or emotionally. In the villa, these individuals unite as a multicultural society, in retreat from battle, their community ironically shattered at the war’s end.
The Canadian Hana is exhausted from nursing the wounded and the dying, her lover has died in the war, and she has aborted their child. Haunted by the ghosts of lover and child, she discovers that her father has died of burns in France, another casualty of battle. Hana asks to remain in the villa after the other hospital personnel and patients have left for safety in Pisa, caring for the burned and dying English patient, a surrogate for her dead father.
The English patient, the Hungarian Count de Almásy, listens to Hana read to him and talks to Kirpal Singh and David Caravaggio, flickering in and out of his morphine-induced dreams of prewar desert explorations and an affair with Katharine Clifton. He remembers when Katharine’s husband Geoffrey learned of their affair and attempted to kill all of them in 1939, crashing his plane in the Libyan desert when he and Katharine came to pick up Almásy. However, Geoffrey succeeded only in killing himself and injuring Katharine. Almásy had buried Geoffrey and carried Katharine into the Cave of Swimmers, promising to return as soon as he could get help. However, the British soldiers he found refused to listen to him, believing him a German spy. They imprisoned him so that he could not get back...
(The entire section is 700 words.)
Near the end of World War II in 1945, the Villa San Girolamo in Tuscany, Italy—a former nunnery and German headquarters—has become a badly bombed out Allied military hospital. All the hospital staff and patients have moved on with the Allies, who are advancing across Europe. The only ones left behind are Hana, a twenty-year-old Canadian nurse from Toronto, and her badly burned and unidentifiable dying patient, who is believed to be English. Hana is joined at the villa by David Caravaggio—an Allied spy from Toronto who is a friend of her father—and Kirpal (Kip) Singh, a Punjabi Indian military engineer, or sapper, who works for the British army dismantling and defusing bombs. This motley foursome spends the summer of 1945 together in the villa.
All four characters have experienced losses due to the war. Hana’s father, Patrick, and her lover have both been killed in action, and she miscarried the child she conceived with that lover. The English patient—Count Ladislaus de Almásy—was forced to abandon his injured former lover, Katharine Clifton, after her husband intentionally crashed an airplane in an attempt to kill all three of them; he was prevented from returning to her rescue by the outbreak of the war. Caravaggio, an Italian Canadian thief turned spy, lost his thumbs when he was captured and interrogated by the Germans. Kip left his home in Punjab to fight in the war in Europe and lost his mentor, Lord Suffolk, when a bomb that Suffolk had been trying to defuse exploded. The four main characters also experience a loss of home and identity in their war-torn setting: All are foreigners in Tuscany.
Over the course of the summer of 1945, Kip and Hana (who celebrates her twenty-first birthday that summer) become intimate but celibate friends, but celibate for only one month. Caravaggio, who has become addicted to morphine, takes it upon himself to uncover the identity of the “English” patient through the use of morphine, to which the patient is also addicted. Almásy’s history is revealed nonchronologically, in bits and pieces....
(The entire section is 846 words.)