Summer reading: The English Patient

I know some people hate this film—although I love it so much I can't pretend to understand why, which is where we run straight up against my failure of imagination and lack of empathy—but even if you hate the film, for lord's sake don't let that stop you from reading the book. It is rich and wise and lyrical; an exquisite literary romance. "Words, Caravaggio. They have a power." A power tangible and fine.

He sweeps his arm across plates and glasses on a restaurant table so she might look up somewhere else in the city hearing this cause of noise. When he is without her. He, who has never felt alone in the miles of longitude between desert towns. A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows of near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart. The plant continues to flourish for a year before it dies from some lack or other.

He lies in his room surrounded by the pale maps. He is without Katharine. His hunger wishes to burn down all social rules, all courtesy.

Her life with others no longer interests him. He wants only her stalking beauty, her theatre of expressions. He wants the minute and secret reflection between them, the depth of field minimal, their foreignness intimate like two pages of a closed book.

He has been disassembled by her.

And if she has brought him to this, what has he brought her to?

Michael Ondaatje, "The English Patient"

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