The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a story of love, war and betrayal (towards relationships and political affiliations). The central characters come from different backgrounds, play very different roles. On a personal note, this novel is one of my “100 Books You Must Read Before You Die List”. The movie doesn’t count, so don’t feel it is a substitute for the novel.
Set at the end of World War II in an Italian villa, The English Patient brings together four unlikely characters: Hana, an emotionally-wounded army nurse who refuses to leave her last patient even when ordered to evacuate; Caravaggio, a friend of Hana's father, thief and spy, a man who is drawn to Hana in ways he cannot articulate; Kip, an Indian ‘sapper’ loyal to the British military who disarms bombs by day, loves Hana by night. Of course there is the mysterious burned invalid, the English patient of the title, who unites them all in unexpected ways. Told in poetic, often oblique language, this novel demands to be savored instead of read greedily. The images are just as likely to be visually precise as they are incomprehensible. The novel is unlike the movie, which concentrates on the love story between the English patient and the woman he loves. The novel is much more complex, exploring the confusing impulses that lead to both passion and danger in all the characters.
“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.”- Almesy, aka the ‘English’ Patient
The character of Kip is the most meticulously described in the novel. Kip or Kirpal Singh, is a young ‘sapper’ originally from Punjab, India who joins the British Army in India during World War II and is eventually brought to England. There he gets training to defuse unexploded bombs that were dropped in and around London. Although he appears towards the middle of the novel, many of pages of The English Patient are devoted to describing both the most infinitesimally small as well as the major details in his life, including the training he received from the very British Lord Suffolk and the relationship that grew between him and Suffolk's family. When Lord Suffolk, a sapper himself, dies while defusing a yet unknown type of unexploded bomb, Kip's life is devastated and he decides to go to Europe, to Italy, to help defuse the mines left behind by the enemy.
Michelyn Camen,Editor in Chief
Editor's Note: Ben Gorham of Byredo Perfumes and I met in 2008 when I was working for Basenote as The New in Niche columnist, the position our Managing Editor Mark Behnke holds today. I will never forget that sumptuous summer lunch at Fred’s Barney’s that I barely ate a bite of (huge scent crush on the tall striking ex basketball star with amazing tats living in Stockholm Sweden). Physical attributes aside, I was mesmerized when Ben Gorham talked about the origins of the Byredo brand (it was a bespoke tailor shop, and his birth place of Chembur).
There were only a few fragrances in the line at the time (loved Gypsy Water), but it was when he spoke about returning to Chembur after fifteen years and being shocked that everything had changed; the exception was the balmy, spicy aroma that filled the air, awakening Ben's childhood memories of home and family.
I realized that minute this fragrance was a metaphor of a journey, a carrier of more than jus but of generations of memories.
Chembur ‘s composition includes incense accompanied by soft, spicy nutmeg, warm-smoky resins, tangy-fruity ginger, amber and a fresh hint of citrus. Nose:Jerome Epinette.
If you would like to experience this extraordinary journey of Ben Gorham so evocative of Kip, we have three sample to one winner Please leave a comment on the book, or your favorite Byredo Perfumes to be eligible. Draw ends May 31 , 2011