Set in 1945, Michael Ondaatje’s brilliant and moving historical fiction has been translated into 40 languages and turned into an Oscar-winning film.

Four very disparate war-torn people, a young woman and three men, take refuge in a damaged villa north of Florence as the war retreats around them. In an upstairs room lies the badly burned English patient, alive but unable to move. His extraordinary adventures and turbulent love affair in the North African desert before the war provide the focus around which the vivid tales of his companions revolve. His very presence will forever change the destiny of those around him.

The Booker Prize 1992
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Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of seven novels, a memoir, a non-fiction book on film and several books of poetry.
More about Michael Ondaatje

That rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight

— Kamila Shamsie, Golden Man Booker Prize judge

The English Patient on screen

Anthony Minghella directed and wrote the screenplay for the award-winning adaptation of The English Patient.

The 1996 film starred Ralph Fiennes as Almásy, Juliette Binoche as Hana and Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine, and also featured Willem Defoe and Colin Firth.

Reviewing the film for The AV Club, John Krewson said: ‘This heartbreakingly beautiful film, a brilliant adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s equally beautiful novel, is a sort of Casablanca for our time.’

The film won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Minghella, and Best Supporting Actress for Binoche.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas dancing in a still from The English Patient.

Listen to The English Patient soundtrack

The original score and songs for The English Patient were composed by Gabriel Yared. The soundtrack won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award and a Grammy Award.

The winning moment

Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient was the joint winner of the 1992 Booker Prize, alongside Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger.

Writing in The Times on October 14 1992, chair of the judges Victoria Glendinning explained the decision to split the prize.

‘The fact that we decided to share the prize between Barry Unsworth and Michael Ondaatje reflects the passion of feeling among the judges for both these books,’ she wrote. ‘We checked our passions, if passions can be checked, by revoting by means of proportional representation like the Eurovision Song Contest: Luxembourg nuls points. The result was equal points for Ondaatje and Unsworth. We were all I think rather glad.’

The English Patient also went on to win the Golden Man Booker in 2018, a one-off award that crowned the best work of fiction from the last five decades of prize, as chosen by five judges and then voted for by the public.

1992 Booker Prize ceremony

Other nominated books by Michael Ondaatje