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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter III

Chapter II

Chapter III, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

One of the soldiers who has entered the library while Hana plays the piano is a young sikh, an Indian officer who works with the British forces to clear unexploded bombs and mines. He has run into the library out of fear for the piano player, as Germans often hid bombs in musical instruments and metronomes. The sikh finds the piano safe and then makes camp in the garden of the villa. He makes it his duty to clear the area and make it safe for the inhabitants. Hana notices that the sikh is always extraordinarily respectful and polite. She watches his muscles and notices the unashamed physicality of his body.

The sikh is sent on very dangerous and sensitive missions. He must protect the Italian people at their ceremonies honoring the Virgin Mary, and even look for bombs on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although the sikh does not share these people's faith, he does everything he can to protect it.

Hana and Caravaggio talk. She tells him that she was pregnant and used to talk to the baby all the time, but lost the baby in an abortion when she got to Sicily, as the baby's father was dead anyway. Hana tells Caravaggio all she has learned about death in her work as a nurse. She tells him that, after a while, she refused to have anything to do with the soldiers on a personal level. She withdrew emotionally and threw herself into her work.

The sikh, named Kip, goes into the English patient's room to talk to him one day. It turns out that they get along very well, and they are able to spend much time talking of their expertise on bombs, guns, and weapons. Hana is glad that her patient has found a new friend.

The narrator tells the story of how the English patient got to Italy. The Bedouin tribe that saved him brought him to the British base at Siwa in 1944. He was moved from the Western desert to Tunis, then shipped to Italy. Because he could not be identified, and could hardly remember who he was, the British had a very difficult time trying to determine whether or not he was an enemy. He seemed very British and bombarded them with facts about Italy, the military, and history. His rambling drove them crazy, but they were never quite sure who he was. As the English patient tells Hana the story, he drifts off to sleep. She reads parts of his journal.

One day, Kip is searching the garden and he finds a large and complicated bomb with wires running through the grass and attached to a tree. He needs Hana's help to hold one of the wires while he tries to figure out which one to cut. He succeeds in neutralizing the bomb, but it has been particularly difficult and he is shaking. Hana tells him that she is not afraid of death, and that she just wishes she could curl up in his arms and feel safe here on the grass. While they are curled up and Hana is sleeping, Kip feels preoccupied. He knows that his brown skin will always make him a foreigner, unable to let his guard down and have real human contact.

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