The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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The English Patient/László Almásy Character Analysis

The protagonist and title character of The English Patient. The English patient is first introduced as Hana’s patient at an abandoned Italian villa during World War II. He has been badly burned and is suffering from amnesia. His only possession is a book, a worn and heavily annotated copy of The Histories by Herodotus, which Hana reads to him. While the English patient claims to not remember his name or nationality—it is only assumed that he is English—he seems to remember everything else, and he tells Hana all about his life as a desert explorer. The English patient has a deep love for the desert, which he sees a vast, impermanent place that is always changing and evolving. Moreover, he loves the desert because he sees it as a “nationless” place were divisions of nationality are “insignificant.” Like the desert, the English patient attempts to become “nationless” by spending years in the Gilf Kebir looking for Zerzura, a mythical city thought to have existed in the Sahara. During this time, the English patient has a love affair with Katharine, a married Englishwoman he meets while her husband, Geoffrey, is working as part of the English patient’s exploration time. Katharine and the English patient have a short but intense affair that ends tragically after Geoffrey’s botched murder-suicide attempt. Caravaggio, an old friend of Hana’s who comes to stay at the villa, discovers that the English patient is actually László Almásy, a Hungarian desert explorer and cartographer who helped guide German spies through the desert into Egypt during World War II. Almásy has been hiding his guilt, and his nationality, behind his amnesia. At the novel’s climax, Kip, an Indian sapper who is diffusing bombs at the villa, threatens to kill the English patient after atomic bombs are dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. As Kip believes the English patient to be from England, he sees him as a representation of the British and their efforts to colonize and oppress the people of the East. Kip ultimately does not kill him, and the English patient’s fate is never revealed. Through his relationship with Katharine, his character serves to illustrate the power of love to transcend anything, including marriage, war, and even death. The English patient also exemplifies the connection between storytelling and history, as he suggests that history cannot be fully understood or appreciated without personal stories.

The English Patient/László Almásy Quotes in The English Patient

The The English Patient quotes below are all either spoken by The English Patient/László Almásy or refer to The English Patient/László Almásy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The English Patient published in 1993.
Chapter III Quotes

“I have seen editions of The Histories with a sculpted portrait on the cover. Some statue found in a French museum. But I never imagine Herodotus this way. I see him more as one of those spare men of the desert who travel from oasis to oasis, trading legends as if it is the exchange of seeds, consuming everything without suspicion, piecing together a mirage. ‘This history of mine,’ Herodotus says, ‘has from the beginning sought out the supplementary to the main argument.’ What you find in him are cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history—[…]”

Related Characters: The English Patient/László Almásy (speaker), Hana
Related Symbols: The Desert  , Books
Page Number: 118-9
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter IV Quotes

By 1932, Bagnold was finished and Madox and the rest of us were everywhere. Looking for the lost army of Cambyses. Looking for Zerzura. 1932 and 1933 and 1934. Not seeing each other for months. Just the Bedouin and us, crisscrossing the Forty Days Road. There were rivers of desert tribes, the most beautiful humans I’ve met in my life. We were German, English, Hungarian, African— all of us insignificant to them. Gradually we became nationless. I came to hate nations. We are deformed by nation-states. Madox died because of nations.

Related Characters: The English Patient/László Almásy (speaker), Madox
Related Symbols: The Desert 
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

The ends of the earth are never the points on a map that colonists push against, enlarging their sphere of influence. On one side servants and slaves and tides of power and correspondence with the Geographical Society. On the other the first step by a white man across a great river, the first sight (by a white eye) of a mountain that has been there forever.

Related Symbols: The Desert 
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter V Quotes

She picks up a cushion and places it onto her lap as a shield against him. “If you make love to me I won’t lie about it. If I make love to you I won’t lie about it.”

She moves the cushion against her heart, as if she would suffocate that part of herself which has broken free.

“What do you hate most?” he asks.

“A lie. And you?”

“Ownership,” he says. “When you leave me, forget me.”

Her fist swings towards him and hits hard into the bone just below his eye. She dresses and leaves.

Related Characters: The English Patient/László Almásy (speaker), Katharine Clifton (speaker), Geoffrey Clifton
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter VI Quotes

“Let me tell you a story,” Caravaggio says to Hana. ‘There was a Hungarian named Almásy, who worked for the Germans during the war. He flew a bit with the Afrika Korps, but he was more valuable than that. In the 1930s he had been one of the great desert explorers. He knew every water hole and had helped map the Sand Sea. He knew all about the desert. He knew all about dialects. Does this sound familiar? Between the two wars he was always on expeditions out of Cairo. One was to search for Zerzura— the lost oasis. Then when war broke out he joined the Germans. In 1941 he became a guide for spies, taking them across the desert into Cairo. What I want to tell you is, I think the English patient is not English.”

Related Characters: Caravaggio (speaker), The English Patient/László Almásy, Hana
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter IX Quotes

She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water. She returned to her husband.

Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography— to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books.

Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter X Quotes

I grew up with traditions from my country, but later, more often, from your country. Your fragile white island that with customs and manners and books and prefects and reason somehow converted the rest of the world. You stood for precise behaviour. I knew if I lifted a teacup with the wrong finger I’d be banished. If I tied the wrong kind of knot in a tie I was out. Was it just ships that gave you such power? Was it, as my brother said, because you had the histories and printing presses?

Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

My brother told me. Never turn your back on Europe. The deal makers. The contract makers. The map drawers. Never trust Europeans, he said. Never shake hands with them. But we, oh, we were easily impressed— by speeches and medals and your ceremonies. What have I been doing these last few years? Cutting away, defusing, limbs of evil. For what? For this to happen?

Related Symbols: Bombs
Page Number: 284-5
Explanation and Analysis:

He was riding deeper into thick rain. Because he had loved the face on the ceiling he had loved the words. As he had believed in the burned man and the meadows of civilisation he tended. Isaiah and Jeremiah and Solomon were in the burned man’s bedside book, his holy book, whatever he had loved glued into his own. He had passed his book to the sapper, and the sapper had said we have a Holy Book too.

Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:
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The English Patient/László Almásy Character Timeline in The English Patient

The timeline below shows where the character The English Patient/László Almásy appears in The English Patient. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter I. The Villa
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...Light pours from the room, which is painted like a garden. A man, the English patient, lies in a bed in the center of the room. As Hana enters, he turns... (full context)
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Hana bathes the English patient every four days. She starts at his feet, wrecked and mangled by fire, and squeezes... (full context)
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The English patient tells Hana about the desert and picnics with a woman who used to kiss his... (full context)
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The English patient can never sleep at night, so Hana finds a book in the library and reads... (full context)
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The Bedouin had placed cloth soaked in oils over the English patient’s burnt skin, “anointing” him. Each evening at nightfall, they would change the bandages and inspect... (full context)
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As Hana reads to the English patient, she looks down the hall, but she knows that no one is coming. The abandoned... (full context)
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...planted enough vegetables in the orchard near the Villa San Girolamo to keep the English patient and herself alive, and she occasionally trades hospital supplies for meat and beans with a... (full context)
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The Bedouin taught the English patient how to raise his hands and arms to the sky to draw energy from the... (full context)
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...of the room, stepping into her own footprints. She takes the book to the English patient’s room and sits in the window alcove. Opening the book, Hana is about to enter... (full context)
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...the Allies took over, they converted the villa into a hospital. The medical staff and patients were transferred south to a safer area, but Hana insisted on staying behind with the... (full context)
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...in rooms that have very few standing walls, and she occasionally sleeps in the English patient’s room. Hana lives “like a vagrant,” while the English patient is “reposed in his bed... (full context)
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Hana picks up the copy of The Histories by Herodotus from the English patient’s bedside table. He had brought the book with him to the villa, and pages from... (full context)
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The English patient interrupts Hana’s reading and tells her that the Bedouin kept him alive for a reason.... (full context)
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The English patient saw engravings on the rocks in Tassili depicting Sahara people hunting water horses, and in... (full context)
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The Bedouin kept the English patient alive “because of the buried guns.” They handed him eight guns along with ammunition, and... (full context)
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Hana stands at a sink after leaving the English patient. She splashes water on her face and stands staring at the wall. She has long... (full context)
Chapter II. In Near Ruins
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Caravaggio, with his bandaged hands, has been a patient at the military hospital in Rome for over four months now. He heard in passing... (full context)
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...old nunnery just north of Florence. The villa is incredibly unsafe, but she claims her patient isn’t stable enough to move. The doctors figure that Hana is suffering from shellshock, and... (full context)
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...come all this way to see her. Hana stands up and goes to the English patient’s room. (full context)
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...they should find some music as soon as possible; it will be good for her patient, but Hana says that her patient is still in Africa. The English love Africa, Caravaggio... (full context)
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Hana often looks for Caravaggio late at night, after she has left the English patient. She finds him on the roof and sits next to him. The English patient thinks... (full context)
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...war. Now they are both in Florence, and Hana has committed herself to the English patient, so Caravaggio just watches her eat. (full context)
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Hana met the English patient not long after Patrick’s death. At that time, most of the North American troops were... (full context)
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...says as she stands from the table. Caravaggio asks Hana why she loves the English patient so much. She tells him that the English patient is a “despairing saint,” and that... (full context)
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...hasn’t looked in the mirror since. She grew increasingly distant, and called all of her patients “Buddy” instead of learning their names. She dressed wounds that bled constantly and removed shrapnel... (full context)
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Hana and Caravaggio suddenly become aware of the English patient shouting, and Hana immediately runs up the stairs. Caravaggio quietly follows, and when he enters... (full context)
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That night, after the English patient falls asleep, Hana slips from his room and goes downstairs. She suddenly feels claustrophobic, and... (full context)
Chapter III. Sometime a Fire
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The English patient begins wearing his hearing aid so he can hear what is going on around the... (full context)
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...never really comfortable in the world. She read in a book recommended by the English patient that “a novel is a mirror walking down a road,” and that is how she... (full context)
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Later, Hana sits reading Kim by Rudyard Kipling to the English patient. He asks her to slow down. Kipling must be read slowly, the English patient says,... (full context)
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The Bedouin had taken the English patient’s burned body to a British base in 1944. He was soon brought to Italy, where... (full context)
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As Hana flips through The Histories, she reads some of the English patient’s personal writing. He writes about a woman named Katharine and her reading of a Stephen... (full context)
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Inside the villa, Hana carries a large mirror down the upstairs hallway. The English patient wants to see himself. At the foot of the bed, Hana stands on a chair... (full context)
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Later that night, the residents of the villa have a party in the English patient’s room. Caravaggio has found a gramophone, and Kip, despite the fact that he doesn’t drink,... (full context)
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...is a caught off guard. “Dear worm” was Patrick’s pet name for her. The English patient decides to have some wine, and Kip pours him a glass. Suddenly, they hear an... (full context)
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...is fine with Kip. Kip is only really at ease with men like the English patient and Kip’s mentor, Lord Suffolk. (full context)
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...in books the same way Hana does. As Hana watches Kip stand at the English patient’s bedside, she thinks of the men as a sort of reversal of Kipling’s Kim, in... (full context)
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...the stray dog, Kip removes his shoes and silently goes upstairs. He finds the English patient sleeping and Hana sitting near his bed. She puts her finger to her lips, telling... (full context)
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The next day, Caravaggio sits visiting with the English patient. The Englishman tells him that Caravaggio is “an absurd name for [him].” Caravaggio points out... (full context)
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...and permanence his entire life. He thinks that he must find out who the English patient is, for Hana’s sake at least. Back in Cairo during the war, Caravaggio learned to... (full context)
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The next day, after Hana goes to the English patient’s room to read, he asks her to put down the book and instead read from... (full context)
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...Maybe she’s not, Caravaggio says, but could you still love her? Hana loves the English patient because he is smart, Caravaggio claims. “Talkers seduce, words direct us,” he says. (full context)
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Hana tells Caravaggio to stop talking. After all, with the English patient upstairs, they already have one excessive talker. Caravaggio says Hana is “obsessed” with the English... (full context)
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...that they should all just leave the villa, but Hana refuses to leave the English patient. She assumes Caravaggio is angry because she loves someone else, but he claims he is... (full context)
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...morphine, like Caravaggio. He doesn’t need her to take care of him like the English patient. Kip finds her comfortable, and she loves the darkness of his skin. She loves how... (full context)
Chapter IV. South Cairo 1930-1938
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Hana sits by the English patient’s bed and listens to his stories of the desert. In 1930, he had gone to... (full context)
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The English patient tells Hana that his first desert exploration was in 1930 with a fellow explorer named... (full context)
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In 1931, the English patient met another explorer, Fenelon-Barnes, on a journey into the desert. One day, the English patient... (full context)
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For most of the early 1930s, the English patient looked for Zerzura with a group of explorers. They were German, English, Hungarian, and African,... (full context)
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The English patient tells Hana that the end of the Earth is not a point on a map;... (full context)
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In 1936, the English patient met Geoffrey Clifton. Geoffrey was newly married, and looking to go on an expedition into... (full context)
Chapter V. Katharine
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The first time Katharine dreamed of the English patient, she woke up screaming in the bed she shared with Geoffrey. Her dream was the... (full context)
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One day, before Katharine and the English patient made love for the first time, he asked her what she hated most. She told... (full context)
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The English patient could not keep himself from Katharine, and when he was not in the desert, they... (full context)
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Whenever Katharine had to leave the English patient and return to Geoffrey, the English patient was “insane.” He couldn’t stand to lose her... (full context)
Chapter VI. A Buried Plane
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After Hana injects the English patient with another dose of morphine, he begins to tell her about his time in Cairo.... (full context)
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Later, Caravaggio tells Hana a story about a Hungarian named Almásy who aided the Germans during the war. Almásy was a desert explorer who knew all... (full context)
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Hana is dubious and tells Caravaggio that his suspicions about the English patient are ridiculous. Caravaggio reminds of Hana of when they named the stray dog. The English... (full context)
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...Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier as a code book to send messages back and forth. Almásy guided Eppler through the desert. After leaving Eppler in Cairo, Almásy went back into the... (full context)
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Hana tells Caravaggio that it makes no difference who the English patient is. After all, she says, the war is over. Caravaggio isn’t convinced. He wants to... (full context)
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After giving the English patient the Brompton cocktail, he begins to tell Caravaggio all about Cairo and the desert. Caravaggio... (full context)
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After four days walking in the desert, the English patient finally reached the Cave of Swimmers, where he had left Katharine years earlier. Her dead... (full context)
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After the English patient’s affair with Katharine ended, he became angry and introverted, and grew suspicious that Katharine had... (full context)
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When the English patient took Katharine’s broken body from the plane, she asked him why he hated her so.... (full context)
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When the English patient finally reached Madox’s plane buried in the desert in 1942, he loaded Katharine’s body into... (full context)
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Later, Hana enters the English patient’s room to find Kip standing at his bedside. The English patient claims he and Kip... (full context)
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Kip tells Hana and the English patient about his time as a sapper, diffusing bombs all over Europe. The English patient claims... (full context)
Chapter VIII. The Holy Forest
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At 2:00 in the morning, Hana blows out the candle and leaves the English patient’s room. As she climbs the 36 steps outside the chapel, Kip slips out into the... (full context)
Chapter IX. The Cave of Swimmers
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The English patient tells Hana and Caravaggio, that when he first met Katharine, she was a married woman.... (full context)
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...obsessed with the desert and began to read everything she could about it. The English patient was 15 years older than her, and did not “believe in permanence” or in relationships... (full context)
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...to read a poem out loud, but she wanted to read something else. The English patient handed her his book of Herodotus, and she read the story of Candaules, one the... (full context)
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...doing work for the English. Geoffrey had an uncle in the government, although the English patient was not sure of the exact nature of Geoffrey’s job. Katharine and Geoffrey would frequent... (full context)
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While in Cairo, the English patient worked for the Department of Egyptology and wrote a book about his explorations. It was... (full context)
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Although the English patient did not know it, Geoffrey Clifton was deeply involved with the English government, and they... (full context)
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Katharine loved words, the English patient says to Caravaggio. In words Katharine found “clarity,” “shape,” and “reason,” but the English patient... (full context)
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...stopped and turned around. “This is called the vascular sizood,” he said to the English patient, laughing and pointing to the hollow near the base of his neck. He left, carrying... (full context)
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On Madox’s last night in Cairo, the English patient finally talked him into going into a bar, and there they saw Katharine and Geoffrey... (full context)
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During this time, the only connection the English patient had with the cities of the outside world was through Herodotus’s book. Soon, even the... (full context)
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In the Cave of Swimmers, after Geoffrey had crashed his plane, the English patient placed Katharine, grimacing in pain, on a stretched out parachute. Katharine always wore makeup, so... (full context)
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...of a camel, which is about two and a half miles per hour, the English patient tells Caravaggio. He walked for three days without food. When he arrived in El Taj,... (full context)
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...the villa. He is only a thief, and he doesn’t belong here with the English patient, a man he is now convinced is Almásy. Caravaggio is beginning to believe that it... (full context)
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Geoffrey Clifton had been ordered by British Intelligence to keep an eye on Almásy and his expeditions into the desert, Caravaggio says. The English knew that the desert would... (full context)
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The English patient asks Caravaggio if he came to the villa to finally apprehend him. No, Caravaggio says.... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells the English patient that he is just a thief who was “legitimized” during the war. He stole documents... (full context)
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Caravaggio tells the English patient that British Intelligence knew about Eppler long before he got to Cairo. They had broken... (full context)
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The English patient had to return to the Gilf Kebir, he tells Caravaggio, and Geoffrey was to pick... (full context)
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Katharine was not killed in the crash, but she was badly injured. The English patient pulled her from the mangled plane and carried her to the Cave of Swimmers. “It... (full context)
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The English patient tells Caravaggio that everyone dies “containing a richness of lovers and tribes.” People are “communal... (full context)
Chapter X. August
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...the kitchen of the villa, where Hana sits quietly. She asks him how the English patient is, and Caravaggio tells her that he is sleeping. She then asks Caravaggio if the... (full context)
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As Hana, Caravaggio, and Kip eat and drink, they toast each other and the English patient. Kip joins a glass of water with Hana and Caravaggio’s wine and begins to talk... (full context)
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...letting her voice drift all the way up to the open window of the English patient’s room. Caravaggio heard the song many times during the war in his own unit, but... (full context)
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...the last time she sees him. Kip is her “warrior saint,” and, like the English patient says, is the “fato profugus—fate’s fugitive.” (full context)
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...in the kitchen and goes to the stairs, taking three at a time. The English patient greets him as Kip enters the room, and Kip stares at him as if “condemned”... (full context)
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...the foot of this bed and listened to you, Uncle,” Kip says to the English patient. Kip had done the same as a child and always thought he could fill himself... (full context)
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Kip tells the English patient that the English and the Americans have “converted” Indians to be “pukkah,” and he tells... (full context)
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...in the bed really is, and he again levels the rifle at him. “Do it,” Almásy says. He doesn’t want to listen anymore.  (full context)
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Caravaggio tries to tell Kip that the English patient isn’t really an Englishman, but Kip says that it doesn’t really matter. “When you start... (full context)
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...himself to think of Hana as he rides, but he does, however, carry the English patient with him, who sits facing him on the gas tank. He can hear the Englishman’s... (full context)
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As Kip’s head breaks above water, a candle burns in the English patient’s room back at the villa. In the middle of the night, he senses someone is... (full context)
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...habits.”  In Canada, Hana is 34 years old, and she still thinks of the English patient and the words he read from his book. She accidentally hits a cupboard with her... (full context)