Book Beginnings – The English Patient

I

The Villa

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill towards the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.

In the kitchen she doesn’t pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.

She turns into the room which is another garden–this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling.  The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.

So begins one of the most spellbinding books of all time, The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. Since I’m currently reading his latest book (see sidebar at right), I thought I’d feature the beginning of one of my favorite books of all I’ve ever read, and definitely my favorite of Ondaatje’s. This book I’ve devoured at least three times, quite a feat for me, and I was quite obsessed with it in the 90s when it came out. Then, the movie followed…and what a movie…the Oscar’s Best Picture for that year, 1996 I believe. This is one movie that is as good as the book, and the book is as good as the movie, something that rarely happens.  Ralph Fiennes (way before Lord Voldemort, of the Harry Potter film series fame), Juliette Binoche, and Kristen Scott Thomas are so gorgeous in this film and perfectly cast…If you read the book, you can picture them completely as the roles you are reading.

If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie, you’ll know what this last picture is: Almasy’s book of Herodotus, well worn with reading, and stuffed with notes, the haunted journal of one of the most memorable characters ever written…

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