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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter X

Chapter IX

Chapter X, page 2

page 1 of 2

Kip makes dinner for Hana's twenty-first birthday, and together they celebrate with Caravaggio, drinking wine and singing. Caravaggio thinks how much he wants Kip and Hana to get married. He wonders how he got in this position.

Hana reflects on Kip. In the tents at night, he has told her all about his home, his family, and India. He has taken her mentally on a tour through his sacred temple, to the tree shrine, into his very favorite places. Hana thinks of her lover as a knight, a warrior saint. She would like to be closer to him, but she knows that his job requires him to separate himself from humanity. In any danger, he creates a space around himself and concentrates. He is able to replace loss quickly, and Hana knows this is part of his nature.

Kip remembers first arriving in Italy in October 1943. The German retreat across Italy had been one of the most terrible retreats in history. They laid mines everywhere, hoping to terrorize the Italian people and the Allies for years. The entire electrical system in Naples had been booby trapped so that the whole city would go up in flames when the electricity was finally turned on again. It was the job of Kip and the other sappers to make sure this did not occur. Naples was evacuated so the only humans left in the town were the twelve sappers. Kip spent the entire night looking for mines and explosives, trying to figure out how an entire electrical system could be bombed. By mid-afternoon he was so tired he could no longer bear it. He lay down to sleep in the back of a church with a statue of an angel above him. At three in the afternoon there was no explosion, but light.

One day in August, Hana sees Kip in the lower field of the villa. She hears him scream an awful sound and sink to his knees in agony, his headphones on. He runs to his tent, grabs his rifle, and charges into the English patient's room. He points the gun at Almásy and says he has just heard that they have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. He blames Almásy, as a representative of the English, for all of the terrible things the west has done to Asia. He knows that they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white country. Almásy entreats Kip to pull the trigger, to help him end his life, but Kip cannot. He puts the gun down, but a wall of silence has been constructed between him and the white people in the villa.

By morning, Kip has removed all vestiges of military insignia from his clothes. He finds an old motorbike behind the villa and drives away on it, refusing to say goodbye to Hana. As Kip leaves, Caravaggio hugs him, saying that he will have to learn now how to miss him. Kip rides on his motorbike toward the south. He plans to ride to the Adriatic and avoid the army as much as he can. As he is riding, he refuses to think of Hana. He skids on a wet bridge and is thrown, by the momentum of his bicycle, off the side of the bridge. He and the motorbike fall through mid-air into the water. His head rises above the water and he gasps in air.

Hana writes a letter to her stepmother, Clara. She has been unable to write to anyone at home since the death of her father, Patrick. She now finds the strength to write to Clara, telling her how her father died, how his men left him after he was burned beyond recognition. Hana mourns the sadness of geography: she, a nurse who knows so much about burns, could not care for her own father because he was far away. But she is comforted by the fact that her father died in a holy place, on a dove-cot, a comforting place built so that doves could be safe.

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