29/52 Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient (1993). I enjoyed reading this multi layered and abundant novel full-heartedly from the first page. I have never read anything from Michael Ondaatje so his work was a wonderful surprise. I read another book from him right after this one, Anil's Ghost, because I enjoyed this so much. This is perfect summer read. I found the novel entertaining because it has many interesting details and lots of happenings. It also enlightened me about the history of Second World War.
The happenings take place in Italy in 1945 when the Second World war is still having it's influence on people who have survived. I have had my schools in Finland so my understanding about the history is very Eurocentric and focused on Finland's role and relations with other countries. All four main characters come from very different backgrounds bringing their own history and interests. Hana is from Canada and has worked as a nurse in the war. She has lost both her child and father. The English patient has traveled through the desert and has now lost his memory. He has no idea who he is, where he is from and what he was doing before the Bedouins found him badly burnt from the desert. Caravaggio is Hana's father's old friend who has worked as a spy during the war because of his skills to infiltrate to the most difficult places. Kip is an Indian Sikh whose job to undo bombs doesn't end at the moment when the war does. Mines of many kind and dud explosives remind that the scars of war can't be forgotten in a day or two. What has been done can't be undone without a sacrifice.
I felt like this party gathered in an Italian villa is making an effort to collect themselves after the horrible events that have drained them. They close the world out and concentrate on what is left. They all have still work to do. Hana is still needed as a nurse and the ground is full of explosives for Kip to broke. But at the moment they need time of to realize where they are. Like they have gone through a series of incidents they have had nothing to say and now they need to make peace with their decisions to cope with the future. Hana has lost her father and in the moment of her grief meets the so called English patient. A badly burnt man whose history is not known. She decides to concentrate on taking care of the man the best way possible. She is first left to the villa alone with the man but soon Caravaggio and Kip make her company. Caravaggio says Hana is in love with the burnt man but as I understood it she is processing her grief and bad consciousness about not being able to help her father.
What comes to the burnt man whose past is unclear I was not sure if he really didn't remember or if he just tried to forget. When the past years begin to unravel it becomes understandable why he might have wanted to bury it all and start as a new person. In the middle of war people have been making decisions that looking back seem immoral and wrong. When evaluating the circumstances it becomes possible to understand the real motives behind the actions. This novel doesn't use war as an exciting background for dramatic love stories. It literally tells how great love stories end to dust and bone in cruel world that is not made for human beings at all. The war comes to destroy the lives for all four main characters and nothing beautiful comes out of war.
The English patient has been making a search with his colleagues at the desert when barbaric war arrives making the members of the scientific community enemies to each other. It is absurd how people who are sharing a passion together and who have been working together for ages can become enemies because of the politics. It is artificial how these politics search to keep people apart by the rules of war. The researches of the desert are studying ancient cultures and focus on happenings far back in the history. The new war is surprising, plain stupid and irrational. I thought it was an intelligent choice not to romanticize the lost love that the English patient has had. I think it would have been dangerous to do such as make heroes of war and love. War makes you lose and war is always ugly and unnecessary.
Mines have been planted to places where people should be able to live. Explosives under the ground are so unjust because you can't see what you are fighting against. Also one who has planted those bombs can never know who they are killing or harming. Civilians become the sufferers too often. Also what makes those so horrible is that you can't switch off the mines when the declaration of peace has been run on the radio. Even after that someone will be harmed or killed. A lot of work has to be done to clear the Earth off from danger.
What I like about Ondaatje's style is that he doesn't over explain but trusts the reader to understand and feel what the characters are going through. He uses subtle hints when he describes the choices the characters have done. One can come to a decision by self when reading and learning about the characters. The novel focuses in the moment when all four are living under the same roof. There are no clear or simple relationships. The reader is left to sort out what was all about again and make their own interpretation. I don't want to open the plot too much so you will have the amazing reading experience but I have to say that I found that many of the relationships left questions we might all answer differently. For example the English patient's and Katherine's love story that is revealed piece by piece made me question what was it about? They both seemed very surprised about their emotions towards each other. They did have some kind of relationship, but where they in love and would they have become a couple if things would have gone in a different way? This book is written for people who like to read carefully and ponder every nuance of the text to make a conclusion. You also have to be prepared that you might not get an answer at all.
30/52 Michael Ondaatje: Anil's Ghost (2000). Just few words about this novel I read right after I finished The English Patient. The happenings take place in Sri Lanka where there is a war going on and people are disappearing. Some of the people are found dead some have gone missing and their relatives are left to uncertainty to what has happened to their loved ones. Anil has been born in Sri Lanka but lived fifteen years abroad, mainly in United States. She is a forensic pathologist and sent to make a research about what has happened in the war. In Sri Lanka she gets to work with Sarath who is an archaeologist. Together they try to sort out who is the person they find from an old grave but is proven to be a victim of a more present violence than the others found from the same place. The two professionals are forced to work in circumstances where they have to be afraid that by doing right thing and revealing the truth they might get harmed. The people of the society are coping from day to day in uncertainty what might happen. It leaves the question how to succeed to do the right thing when keeping silent might keep you safe? Yet the whole situation won't change if everyone in staying scared at home trying to survive. Someone has to do the first action towards justice. But how much can you expect an individual to be ready to sacrifice for the sake of better tomorrow?
Hope you have wonderful and thought provoking reading experiences with both books!