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The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Chapter VII

Chapter VI

Chapter VII, page 2

page 1 of 2

Kip remembers his training for the bomb squad in 1940 in Westbury, England, under the direction of Lord Suffolk, his mentor. As the second son in his family, Kip was expected to be a doctor, but the war changed all that. He volunteered for the army and ended up in the bomb unit. The work was extremely dangerous and the life expectancy was only about ten weeks. Once the Germans began bombing Britain, there were suddenly nearly 3,700 unexploded bombs in the country, ready to be tripped by unwitting people. It was Kip's job to help clear all these bombs away.

Kip greatly admired Lord Suffolk, and thought he represented the best of the English. Suffolk would tell Kip of English culture and customs just as if he were an Englishman himself, not a foreigner visiting their country. Suffolk was full of anecdotes and information, and taught Kip about western life. When Kip had first applied for the position as part of the bomb detonation unit, he was worried he would be denied because of his race. However, Suffolk and his secretary, Miss Morden, told him he had completed the problems so well and had such a good character, that they were sure they would offer him the job. Kip found himself welcomed into a little family of which he was glad to be a part. His skill and character won him a position of individuality, free of the "chaotic machinery" of the army. Living in the unit with Suffolk, he began to love the English and their ways.

Kip tells Hana about the moment he learned that Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, and four men in training were killed. He was in London working on a bomb when an officer came to tell him the news that they had all been killed when Suffolk was attempting to dismantle a 25-kilogram bomb. Kip was unbearably upset, but held himself together and pretended they were all still alive. The officer came to tell him there was another bomb, just like the one that killed Suffolk, and it needed to be taken care of immediately.

Kip went to attempt to dismantle the bomb, though it was the middle of the night and he was exhausted. He knew the Germans must have changed the way they put the bomb together. To figure out the secret, one had to understand not only the bomb-maker's mind, but also his character. Kip was excellent at figuring out both.

When Kip got to the bomb, the area was ablaze with the officers' lights. Kip examined the bomb and realized that he could dismantle it from its explosive material, making it essentially harmless. Once he did this, he set to work on figuring out the "joke" to the bomb. Eventually he realized it: the Germans had put a second gaine, a whole separate device into the bomb to make it very difficult to defuse. Once Kip realized this, he also had to accept that Lord Suffolk and his English friends were dead. Kip now carried the responsibility of defusing all the bombs of this type and teaching all the other sappers in England how to do so. He had not realized Suffolk's responsibility until that point. Such responsibility trained Kip to block out everything else whenever he is working on a bomb, and to realize what a terrible weight rests on him.

Kip figured out the new bomb that night. The second fuse was set to detonate exactly an hour after the first, long after a sapper would have assumed the bomb was safe. Kip wrote out detailed diagrams and explanations of the new bomb, and looking at the problem from another angle, was able to come up with a method of defusing that would completely change the way bombs were handled in England.

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