The English PatientRead about another novel on the list.
A plane crash in the desert, a nurse, a patient. Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel The English Patient begins with these basics and circles around clues to the mysteries and identities of four characters thrown together as if by chance in an abandoned Italian villa near Florence as World War II comes to an end: Hana, a young French-Canadian nurse scarred by loss; her patient, a dying man burned badly in a plane crash in the Sahara who seems not to know who he is; Kip, a Sikh sapper in the British Army who works to rid the area of mines and falls in love with Hana; and Caravaggio, a Canadian thief turned intelligence officer with ruined hands (his thumbs were sliced off during interrogation by the Nazis in Cairo). He suspects the patient may not be as innocent as Hana thinks he is.
In his screenplay for the 1996 film, Anthony Minghella, who also directed, simplified the characters, eliminated a series of side stories, including Caravaggio’s relationship with Hana’s father in Montreal and Kip’s training in disarming bombs in England, and changed the ending. It’s still a story with dozens of intruiguing digressions, from archeological finds to Bedouin healing arts to spycraft.
The film is a masterpiece of editing, a complex story told with dozens of time transitions as it traces the gradual unfolding of the patient’s memories of North Africa, where he was part of an international group engaged in mapping the Sahara. His well-thumbed copy of Herodotus, with its intriguing mementos inside, underscores the historic context. But it’s the artful telling of the patient’s tragic love affair with a married Englishwoman and the retaliation by her cuckolded husband, that makes this an Academy Award-winning film. (The English Patient won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.) Not to mention the superb cast: Ralph Fiennes as the patient, Kristin Scott Thomas as his lover Katherine, Colin Firth as her husband, Willem Dafoe as Caravaggio, Naveen Andrews as Kip, and Juliette Binoche, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, as Hana.
The English Patient also made John Mullan's list of ten of the best deserts in literature.
Also see: Best book to film adaptations.