Analysis

The concept of history plays a large and crucial role in The English Patient. It is the book of Herodotus—itself a history—in which Almásy records not only his travels and explorations, but his thoughts about the affair with Katharine. Ondaatje writes that Almásy's "only connection to the world of cities was Herodotus." It was his habit to glue pieces of paper into the book "over what he thought were lies" and write in a map or sketch of what appeared to him the truth. The Herodotus book, then, becomes not only an ancient history, but a more recent history as well. It details Almásy's own observations, his own affair with the desert. History in the novel is not a static concept, but a flowing, changing force that connects the past to the present.

The Herodotus book highlights the possibility of multiple realities existing simultaneously. The geographical and cultural descriptions Almásy records in the book belie the existence of his affair and obsession with Katharine. Similarly, his clinical, sterilized reports of earthly features to the Geographical Society belie the majesty and emotion associated with gazing upon those features of the desert. One reality or description is no more real than another; rather, what is essential is the audience's choice of which reality to rely on and accept. Writing over the words of Herodotus, Almásy is literally rewriting history, choosing his perception of reality over that of his historian predecessor. In the same way, the audience must choose a reality when hearing (or reading) the story. It is not enough for Hana, Caravaggio, or Kip to listen to Almásy's stories and understand them in isolation. By connecting them to the present moment, relating them to their own lives, they change the history, introducing a new dimension into it.