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Re-Constructing the Fragments of Michael Ondaatje’s Works

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Jean-Michel Lacroix

Dropping The Bomb? On Critical and Cinematic Reactions to Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient

Josef Pesch

Résumé

Cette communication analyse l’adaptation filmique du roman de Michael Ondaatje, Le Patient anglais. Son but est de tenter de définir des structures de transformation et des stratégies d’adaptation. Il s’agit d’analyser non seulement la romancisation nostalgique mais aussi la dépolitisation du roman. Comme le fait d’avoir omis dans le film toute référence à la bombe atomique est l’exemple le plus évident de déviance par rapport au roman, on rappelera l’arrière plan critique et politique susceptible d’expliquer cet acte d’auto-censure. Bien que Minghella et Ondaatje reconnaissent omissions et désaccords, leurs déclaration ne permettent pas de clarifier le processus de prise de position.

Texte intégral

Criticism of the highest kind [...] treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for new creation. It does not confine itself [...] to discovering the real intention of the artist and accepting that as final. [...] To the critic the work of art is simply a suggestion for a new work of his own, that need not bear any obvious resemblance to the thing it criticises. (Wilde 1966: 1029-1030)

  • 1 Ondaatje agrees in his comments on the screenplay (EP-SP: xv-xvi).

1Translating a novel into film may not be what Oscar Wilde had in mind. Nonetheless, by necessity any writer of screenplays will treat the work of fiction on which his idea is based as a starting-point for a new creation. If that starting-point is a complex work of art, the transformation cannot but change, alter, adapt that work into something it is not, and this fact has long since been accepted in film studies (Beja 1979: 80-88). To expect fidelity of a film to the novel on which it is based is as absurd as expecting a faithful translation-faithful to what standard? imposed by whom? (McFarlane 1996: 8-10).1 Any attempt at a line-by-line comparison and critique of an adaptation does not make much sense, for it would be asking the film to do what the novel has done already, almost like Borges 'ideal' translator of Don Quixote (see Bassnett 1997). What is intended here is a critical reading of Anthony Minghella's grandiose film in search of patterns of transformation and strategies of adaptation. This necessitates an occasional re-reading of Ondaatje's novel as well as critical reactions to it.

  • 2 Special thanks to Patrick Hilt (Universität Frankfurt/M.) on a research scholarship in Toronto in (...)
  • 3 The critique of the geographer and Sahara specialist Stefan Kröpelin is much more down to earth: h (...)

2The film begins with a magic flight over the desert of a woman and a pilot (EP-SP: 3).2 Their plane is shot down by a German anti-aircraft gun (EP-SP: 4) in a most dramatic opening scene which contrasts the peaceful lightness of flight (and song) with the horror of war and gunfire. A few scenes situated in Italy are cut in before we return to the desert: "THE PILOT HAS BEEN RESCUED BY BEDUIN TRIBESMEN" (EP-SP: 6). This is absurd: a plane shot down would immediately be inspected by the antiaircraft gunners, especially if there was a parachute. If this is so, why is the burnt man picked up by beduin tribesmen? The logic of the scene has been sacrificed for a cinematic effect. In the novel, the pilot "is flying a rotted plane, the canvas sheetings on the wing ripping open in the speed" (EP: 175), and crashes into the middle of nowhere, where Beduins are the only ones likely to find him. A scene that is logical, coherent, and poetic in the novel has here been adapted into confused scenes that quote action cinéma and its stereotypes.3

  • 4 There is no doubt at all in the film that the Patient is Almásy - as there is in the book (Pesch 1 (...)
  • 5 As Simpson puts it, "the advent of the nuclear age, blasting nations and people on all points of t (...)

3Cinematic licence may be involved in turning Hana and Caravaggio into strangers, and then make up for it in an awkward introduction: "CARAVAGGIO:'I met your friend Mary. She said I should stop and see if you were alright. Apparently, we're neighbors - my house is two blocks from yours in Montreal. Cabot, north of Laurier'" (EP-SP: 36). This decision makes the special relationship between Hana and Caravaggio in the rest of the film hard to understand. Minghella seems to want to see Caravaggio motivated solely by revenge, an age-old theatrical device that streamlines the plot and allows for stronger contrast, even antagonism, between Almásy, the 'bad' count and Nazi collaborator, and Caravaggio, the post-war vigilante and victim of Almásy's conspiracy with the Germans.4 In the novel, Caravaggio stumbles across the Patient by accident while looking for Hana. His interaction with the Patient is not driven by revenge, but by a desire to comprehend what has happened to him and his world in this war. The telling of stories is an integral part of coming to terms with the many losses of world for Caravaggio as well as for the Patient (see Pesch 1997a: 120-124). It is a talking-through the apocalyptic traumas they have experienced.5 For both, the antagonism of war is history; they have arrived at that "strange time, [at] the end of a war, [... the] period of adjustment" (EP: 54). As in so many simplistic war movies, Minghella uses antagonism between enemies to create a completely different kind of tension.

4The following scene is more revealing. After having been caught by the Germans, Caravaggio is interrogated by Muller, a German officer:

I'll tell you what I'm going to do. This is your nurse, by the way. She's a Moslem, so she'll understand all of this. What's the punishment for adultery? Let's leave it at that. You're married and you were fucking another woman, so that's - is it the hands are cut off? Or is that for stealing? (EP-SL: 114)

  • 6 To the point of trying to stylize Sadam Hussein into a latter day Hitler. An absurd notion as the (...)
  • 7 When I write 'Minghella' here, I am identifying him as the writer of the screenplay. I am fully aw (...)

5This short passage suggests that Moslems are on one level with the Nazis. It associates Moslem legal practices (on which I am not commenting here) with Nazi atrocities. The German officer forces this nurse to cut off Caravaggio's thumbs. In this scene Minghella confirms a religious and racial stereotype of Muslims which has become politically popular in the USA particularly since the end of the Cold War.6 What is Minghella adapting here? There is no precedent anywhere in Ondaatje's works for this: on the contrary, Ondaatje persistently questions and scrupulously avoids stereotypes like this; nowhere does he ever confirm such views (see Pesch 1997a; 1997b; 1997c). My suggestion is that Minghella7 is all too obviously catering for the political tastes of his American audience here. Ondaatje has constructed this episode very carefully: in the novel it takes place in Italy and the order to cut off Caravaggio's thumbs is given by someone with an Italian name: "Ranuccio Tommasoni" (EP: 55; 59). As Caravaggio relates, the nurse was "an innocent, knew nothing about me, my name or nationality or what I may have done" (EP: 55). Neither her nationality nor her faith are mentioned. Clearly Ondaatje does not need stereotypes of Muslims-or Germans-to show the brutality of Fascist Christians during World War II.

  • 8 Again: any team of sappers worth their money would have made sure that no one would get anywhere n (...)

6One of the climactic scenes in the film is the defusing of the big "2,000 pounds" (EP-SL: 134) bomb, dramatically set near a viaduct and at what appears to be the end of the war in Europe (see EP-SL: 138-139). The scene shows tanks with celebrating "citizens and soldiers, and children" (EP-SL: 135) waving "their flags - Stars and Stripes, Union Jacks" (EP-SL: 137), towering high above Kip who is trying to defuse that bomb. The tanks completely ignore Kip and the fact that they are putting him (and themselves) in mortal danger.8 A victory celebration which threatens the life of an Asian from up high is interesting for what it does - and for what it does not show.

7That scene is more significant than anyone watching the film can know, for Anthony Minghella has moved back an episode from the novel and substituted the big bomb Kip did defuse for the even bigger nuclear bombs which explode his calm and control in the novel (Pesch 1997a: 127-128). These bombs, thrown from up high on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, ended the Second World War. This incident relating the dropping of the bombs is pivotal in the novel (EP: 284). These bombs mark the climax in the development of ever more powerful and dangerous bombs that Kip had been defusing all the war. Yet this time the destructive weapons were used by his side, and he is exploded by 'friendly' fire. Furthermore, in the novel the nuclear bombs take up the image of fire falling from heaven, and of burning humans that the English Patient introduced into the novel. Or is the burnt man not to be read as a reminder of all those burnt in this war of whom no trace, no cinder remains?

  • 9 Minghella may have been trying to transfer something of Kip's racial outburst here, but without an (...)

8On a very private level, the bombs generate Kip's emotional outburst that ends his romantic relationship with Hana. This relationship is also developed in the film, albeit on a lesser scale, in scenes preceding Kip's defusing of the bomb (EP-SP: 131-134). In the film the split-up between Kip and Hana follows Hardy's death by a hidden German mine (EP-SP: 143). But as the bombs were dropped from the film script, the end of the relationship is a rather sombre, rational affair. Kip asks Hana whether she will accompany him to India; when she does not reply immediately, he says, "here I am always a brown man, there you would always be a white woman" (EP-SP: 145). This statement not only lacks psychological depth and motivation, it implies that because of their race, they cannot live as a couple, neither in Canada nor in India. Although not motivated by the book,9 such positions are well in line with unofficial Hollywood policies on showing mixed-race relationships - and again confirm a stereotype cherished by some on both sides of the racial fence. However, this scripted ending apparently was too awkward, potentially controversial, and disharmonious. So the film here departs from the script and provides a more open, hopeful, harmonious ending of their relationship: both want to return to the church they had visited together earlier, and express the hope that they will meet again in this church someday (see EP-film). This ending confirms the strategy of romanticisation that dominates the adaptation of this post-romantic novel.

9What takes Kip out of his relationship with Hana in the novel is much more momentous, much less romantic, for his world and belief System are shattered when the atomic bombs are dropped - "this tremor of Western wisdom" (EP: 284). He feels betrayed by the side he has been fighting and dismantling bombs for. He resents "the smell of celebration" (EP: 285) and breaks his relationship with all Europeans and North Americans when he screams: "American, French, I don't care. When you start bombing the brown races of the world, you’re an Englishman" (EP: 288). It is this sense of outrage and betrayal that makes impossible any further relationship with such people.

10Kip may be right or wrong about this, but the scene in the book clearly marks the end of his service as a colonial in the British Army. It bodes ill for colonial/post-colonial relations and inter-cultural understanding after the war. Despite the presence of a burnt man, and all the stories of death and dying, Kip's imaginative evocation of "the streets of Asia full of fire [...] the hurricane of heat withering bodies as it meets them, the shadow of humans suddenly in the air" (EP: 284; also 286-7) are the most harrowing scenes in the novel (see Pesch 1997a). Caravaggio re-emphasizes the racial aspect of the nuclear bombs in a mental comment: "They would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation" (EP: 288).

11The reason why Minghella dropped the bombs from his script may be related to Kip's outburst and Caravaggio's mental comment, for these generated the most pronounced attack on Ondaatje in US-American reviews which challenged the historical accuracy and balance of his novel. In The New Republic Craig Seligman attacks Ondaatje and his novel because of what is said about the nuclear bombs:

[...] beyond the blandness and the psychological thinness, there's also a serious political confusion. [...] Kip [...] goes to pieces at the news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [...] when the bomb - 'this tremor of western wisdom' - drops on Japan, he freaks out. [...] Caravaggio agrees: 'They would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation'; and no doubt he is right. [...] Ondaatje [...] here proudly allies himself with the Asians. [...] And though there's no dismissing the elements of racism in the bombing, only a sentimentalist would feel comfortable lumping Japan with 'the brown races of the world'. (1993: 41)

12Seligman seems not to remember Kip's words to his brother that although Japan is part of Asia, "the Sikhs have been brutalized by the Japanese in Malaya" (EP: 217), and ignores that Kip is not looking at the imperial army, but at burning humans on the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

13Hilary Mantel's review in The New York Review of Books takes the moral onslaught against The English Patient even further. She concludes that

the feuds of the world are not all the same. There is an artist's sentimentality which encourages evil by seeking to disengage. Ondaatje ... wins... [no admiration] ... when he sneaks from responsibility-as a storyteller, as a thinker, one who cleaves always to what is private, hidden, ambiguous; who slips away from statement. This is a hard thing to say, because in Ondaatje's books there is the powerful pulse of human sympathy, a pull towards benevolence. Puls, pull - it's not enough. Sometimes ambivalence is immoral. When souls burn, the quietist stinks with the rest. (1993: 23)

  • 10 The otherwise identical British edition of this book is entitled Killing in Prose and Verse. But t (...)

14Both statements not only ignore entirely the literary facts of Ondaatje's novel, but also, in a move more Victorian than postmodern, hold the author responsible for political statements of his characters. Particularly Mantel is blind to the historical facts (Pesch 1997b: 103-105), for the war in the Pacific had its racist aspects. As the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, confided to his diary: "It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been on the Japanese rather than on the white races of Europe" (rpt. in Granatstein & Neary 1995: 337). Even an outspoken defender of the bomb with a book entitled Thank God for the Atom Bomb, Paul Fussell, who served both in Europe and the Pacific theatres of war, acknowledges and documents the wide-spread racism in the Pacific war (1990: 13-37 & 45-50).10

  • 11 In a large study on Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture ( (...)

15Clearly, Ondaatje's novel had touched a very raw nerve in the USA (cf. Lifton & Mitchell 1996). How raw that nerve still is, became apparent between the publication of the novel and the making of the film when the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the National Air and Space Museum. This exhibition was to show not only the heroic development of the bomb, but also the consequences of its use for human beings on the ground. The script for this exhibition came under vociferous attack by the Air Force Association, a veterans' organization and lobby group for the Air Force, and by Republican members of congress. The controversy was so public, and historically biased, that the exhibition had to be reduced to showing just the Enola Gay and not a single photo of victims (cf. Linenthal & Engelhardt 1996). While the triumph of American science and technology symbolized in the bombs and the Enola Gay were shown, photos of the destruction and human suffering on the ground were not.11

  • 12 Especially when long disproved mis-information was still published in all the media during the Eno (...)

16Looked at from this background, dropping the nuclear bomb scene from the film is both a political and a cultural statement: where the book faces the issue, the film looks the other way, and shows how effective self-censorship is in the industry. With the references to the bomb left in, the film would have been more honest and coherent, but it would also have attracted criticism of the type Seligman and Mantel addressed at the novel.12 What is more: it is unlikely that a film touching such a politically controversial issue would have been awarded 9 Oscars. It might not even have found a producer or distribution in the U.S.A.

17Ondaatje's novel is "historiographical metafiction" (Hutcheon 1987) in the best sense of the word: it presents the problems of writing history and counters official History with its stories recording the memories of suffering-even on the side of the victors (Pesch 1997). Minghella is much less courageous: he repeatedly falls back on racial and national stereotypes and does not deeply explore the implications of his material. Where the novel attempts to present the difficulties of coming out of a war, even if you are on the winning side, the film decides to present nostalgia, romance, and exoticism. I believe this is not just a matter of medium, but a matter of choice, for technically the nuclear bombs could have been incorporated as easily as the sandstorm scenes in the desert. Admittedly, this would have made a more political, a very different film.

18Dropping the bomb had other implications for the film as a whole. Looking away from the explosive end of the war and the start of the Nuclear Age, Minghella's script concentrates on nostalgic flashbacks relating Katherine's and Almásy's romance. This is safe territory, before all the mines, all the bombing, before Auschwitz and Hiroshima - and all the burnt bodies of this war which the Patient embodies and keeps reminding us of. The film allows us to forget that the world of the international desert explorers, "desert Europeans (EP: 135), was itself a fallen world, peopled by survivors of the Great War to End all Wars who had withdrawn to the end of the world, off the maps of history into the prehistoric, remote, and uninviting North African desert. The Patient s hate of nations, of possessions, of being forced into taking sides, is a consequence of experiences and lessons learnt during the First World War. How were these men to know that all the fighting and destruction, and uniformed nationalism, was to catch up with them even where "there was supposedly no water [... and where] the world ended" (EP: 135)?

  • 13 Victor Ramraj, editor of Ariel, first pointed this out to me in an email (1997).

19It is significant that the script comes into its own in the flashbacks describing the love affair of two upper-class individuals in an exotic setting in the North African desert or in Cairo's bazaars and diplomatic circles. Is is just an accident that the film produced and showered with honours in the new empire pushes into the background the post-colonials from Canada and India, and instead focuses on two representatives of old empires: Katherine, British, and Almásy, Austro-Hungarian?13 Or is it just that this story of a love that is not to be fulfilled because of the circumstances of war, recalls another film classic, Cassablanca?

20At any rate, just as the film omits references that may challenge the perceived and nostalgic view of the heroic History of the end of World War II, after which everyone was to go home and live happily ever after, it disregards to look at the reality of Hana and Kip, for whom the war and the Nuclear Age was a world not of their making into which they were thrown. The Patient and Caravaggio share memories of a world before it all came apart - for the Patient in the holocaust of a burning plane, and for Caravaggio after his escape from his captors when he lay on a mined bridge that "exploded and he was flung upwards and then down as part of the end of the world" (60).

  • 14 see footnote 5.
  • 15 Hana is one of those nurses with "hardly a world around them" (EP: 40) who "began to believe in no (...)
  • 16 A moment that, as Baudrillard says, and as the debates about the effect of the bombs on humans in (...)

21For Hana and Kip, the postcolonials, that end comes where their life should have started. They are blown apart and into the Nuclear Age by the atomic blasts. Where the film and the Patient's life end with reading Katherine's letter from the distant past, the book ends with Hana's letter to her mother about her post-apocalyptic present-and future. She writes: "[It is] One day after we heard the bombs were dropped in Japan, so it feels like the end of the world. [...] If we can rationalize this we can rationalize anything" (EP: 292). Hana and Kip may have survived this apocalyptic moment unscathed physically, but their world is no longer the same. Kip is re-baptised Kirpal when he falls into a river (EP: 296). He returns to his old world and becomes a doctor, thus taking up the profession that the old tradition of his family prescribed for him (EP: 182). The apocalypse has literally blown him into the past,14 back into the tradition he had emerged from, but it has not turned him into a hater or fanatic. He has become a doctor, a professional healer, someone who still is a saver of lives. Hana has no such tradition to draw on. She returns to the new world, but cannot go back to business as usual. Years later, at the age of thirty-four, she "has not found her own company, the ones she wanted" (EP: 301). Her experience of apocalypse has left her unmarked physically,15 but it has deeply affected her mentally. She has not been socialized back into "her" society. As "she is a woman of honour and smartness" (EP: 301), she may have resisted the easy accommodation of World War II into popular and official history and we do not "know what her profession is or what her circumstances are" (EP: 300). None of this makes in into a film that is clearly not interested in facing the beginning of life in the post-apocalypse.16

  • 17 Such as American exhibitions of nuclear air raids, gold in Swiss bank vaults, chapters in German c (...)

22Minghella has adapted Michael Ondaatje’s novel and presented it as something it is not, thereby turning it into a new creation. As the prizes and the commercial success show, this new creation works very well within the parameters and strategies, the norms and conventions of the American film industry. These are not of Minghella’s making, yet the choice to adapt a novel that is neither sentimental nor nostalgic, and even anti-romantic at rimes, into a film focussed on nostalgic flashbacks and sentimental romance was his. The decision to drop the bomb and to focus on the pre-war and war history in effect meant de-politicising the film, rather than reflect on all the unexploded mines and bombs left as a legacy of the war, both physical and politica17

23To be fair, Minghella was the first to admit "sins of omission and commission [...] misjudgments and betrayals" that, as he pointed out, "were all made in the spirit of translating his beautiful novel to the screen" (EP-SP: xii). He also hints at the controversies between producer, director, and the author of the novel: "in Saul[Zaentz]'s home in Tuscany [...] there were memorable discussions held in the cool, aquamarine pool, [...] punctuated by bouts of what we called water polo but which was essentially a form of licensed violence to work off all our various pent-up hostilities, and at which Michael proved to be the master" (EP-SP: xi) - which may not be too surprising for someone who learnt to do A Trick with a Knife.

  • 18 "A literary work is a communal act. And this book could not have been imagined, let alone conceive (...)
  • 19 As Joyce's artist hero, Stephen Dedalus, puts it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "I wi (...)

24As most public statements about his work, Ondaatje's preface to the film script is very philosophical and diplomatic. Familiar with scripting and shooting film, he is fully aware of the restrictions and limitations involved in adaptation, and so he is fair enough to maintain that "What we have now are two stories, one with the intimate pace and detail of a three-hundred-page novel, and one that is the length of a vivid and subtle film. Each has its own organic structure" (EP-SP: xvii). He praises Minghella’s film as "a community story made by many hands" (EP-SP: xviii).18 Despite the diplomatic tone, Ondaatje is fairly straight forward about the omissions which matter most to him. He first mentions the cutting of "Anthony’s scenes of Kip in England" (EP-SP: xvi), then continues quite frankly: "For me, the long roots of Hana's and Caravaggio's psyches, Kip's training in England, his reaction to the atomic bomb, and his eventual fate, will always remain in the original country of the book" (EP-SP: xvii). He may have been successfully working off his anger in water polo, but I feel that he did not want to attract attention to himself in a public row with a script writer, director, and producer he had been cooperating with. After all, it does not happen that often that a Canadian novel is turned into a film by a major American production company. Perhaps he was hoping for a "Trojan Horse" effect, for any success of the film was likely to generate a new readership for the novel, and thus introduce the writer and his works to some who might otherwise never have heard of neither. If that effect re-directs attention to The English Patient and Ondaatje's other work, there would be cunning in his silence in the best Joycean tradition.19 This volume (and the conference that generated it) may be an indication of the effectiveness of this strategy.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1992. [= EP] Anthony Minghella. The English Patient: A Screenplay. New York: Hyperion, 1996. [= EP-SP]

The English Patient. Dir. Anthony Minghella. Prod. Saul Zaentz. Miramax, 1996. [= EP-film]

Almásy, Ladislaus E. Schwimmer in der Wüste. Auf der Suche nach der Oase Zarzura. Innsbruck: Haymon, 1997.

Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. London: HarperCollins, 1995.

Barbour, Douglas. Michael Ondaatje. New York: Twayne; Toronto: Macmillan, 1993.

Bassnett, Susan. "Intricate Pathways: Observations on Translation and Literature." Translating Literature. Ed. Susan Bassnett. Cambridge: Brewer, 1997.1-13.

Baudrillard, Jean. "The Anorexic Ruins." Looking Back on the End of the World. Eds. Dietmar Kamper & Christoph Wulf. New York: Semiotext(e), 1989.29-45.

Beja, Morris. Film & Literature. New York & London: Longman, 1979.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London: Paladin, 1988.

Linenthal, Edward T. & Tom Engelhadt. Eds. History Wars. The Enola Gav and other Battles for the American Past. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996.

Fussell, Paul. "Thank God for the Atom Bomb." Killing in Verse and Prose and Other Essays. London: Bellew, 1990.13-37.

---. "Postscript (1987) on Japanese Skulls." Killing in Verse and Prose and Other Essays. London: Bellew, 1990.45-50.

Huntington, Samuel P. "The Clash of Civilizations?" The Clash of Civilizations: The Debate. A Foreign Affairs Reader. New York: Foreign Affairs & Council on Foreign Relations, 1993.22-49.

Hutcheon, Linda. '"The Pastime of Past Time': Fiction, History, Historiographic Metafiction." Genre 20.3-4 (1987): 285-305.

Kammen, Michael. Mystic Chords of Memory. The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Kröpelin, Stefan. "Die Wüste des Englischen Patienten." Die Zeit 17 (18. April 1997): 35.

Lifton, Robert Jay & Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima in America. A Half Century of Denial. New York: Avon, 1996.

Mantel, Hilary. "Wraith's Progress." Rev. of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The New York Review of Books 40.1/2 (1993): 22-23. McFarlane, Brian. Novel to Film. An Introduction to Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Ondaatje, Michael. There's A Trick With a Knife I'm Learning To Do. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

---. Running in the Family. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989.

Pesch, Josef. "Post-Apocalyptic War Histories: Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient." Ariel 28.2 (1997): 117-139. <a>

---. "Globalized Nationalisms: Michael Ondaatje's Novels and (Post)Colonial Correctness." Zeitschrift fur Kanada-Studien. 31 (1997): 96-109. <b>

---. "Mediation, Memory and a Search for the Father: Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 45.1 (1997): 56-71. <c>

---. "Mediating Memories: Michael Ondaatje's (Auto?)Biography Running in the Family." La Création Biographique - Biographical Creation. Ed. Marta Dvorak. Rennes: Association Française d'Études Canadiennes & Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1997.111-117. <d>

Ramraj, Victor. Email of 26 March 1997.

Schrott, Raoul & Michael Farin. "Schwimmer in der Wüste." Vorwort zu Schwimmer in der Wüste. Auf der Suche nach der Oase Zarzura. Ladislaus E. Almásy. Innsbruck: Haymon, 1997.7-22.

Seligman, Craig. "Sentimental Wounds." Rev. of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The New Republic March 15, 1993.38-41.

Simpson, D. Mark. "Minefield Readings: The Postcolonial English Patient." Essays on Canadian Writing 53 (1994): 216-237.

Wilde, Oscar. "The Critic as Artist." Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. London & Glasgow: Collins, 1966.1009-1059.

Notes

1 Ondaatje agrees in his comments on the screenplay (EP-SP: xv-xvi).

2 Special thanks to Patrick Hilt (Universität Frankfurt/M.) on a research scholarship in Toronto in autumn 1997. He helped me obtain a copy of the screenplay and the video.

3 The critique of the geographer and Sahara specialist Stefan Kröpelin is much more down to earth: he has listed a number of inaccuracies in the locations used in the film. No dunes of the type shown in the film exist in the Gilf Kebir. Furthermore, he ridicules the scene in which companions have to be dug out of the sand that has covered their car in one night's sandstorm: on the one hand he has not experienced such a thing in 20 years of research in the area, on the other hand, no one has ever seen wet sand in the region (1997: 35) - and of course this scene is not in the novel. More significantly, the cave of swimmers is nothing like the cave in the film, but a half open structure formed by overhanging rock (Almásy 1997: photos following 192). Such things may be minor, and in part due to financial and logistical problems - or cinematic licence; after all, even Shakespeare is not unknown to have made the occasional geographical blunder.

4 There is no doubt at all in the film that the Patient is Almásy - as there is in the book (Pesch 1997a: 120-121).

5 As Simpson puts it, "the advent of the nuclear age, blasting nations and people on all points of the imperial map past time and space, past a limit in the historical imaginary, renders such forgetting impossible precisely because its apocalypse enflames a rage for mourning” (1994: 229).

6 To the point of trying to stylize Sadam Hussein into a latter day Hitler. An absurd notion as the Second Gulf War revealed: the Iraqis had not been able to defeat the badly armed Iranians in the First Gulf War - and never had the slightest chance to win against the military might of the Allies. After the end of the Cold War the search for a new enemy seems to have begun as Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?” indicates (cf. Pesch 1997<b>).

7 When I write 'Minghella' here, I am identifying him as the writer of the screenplay. I am fully aware of the fact that he is not the only one responsible for what appeared on screen. It would be of great interest to inspect the records of all involved in the decision making, but that was beyond the scope of this paper.

8 Again: any team of sappers worth their money would have made sure that no one would get anywhere near the defusing of a bomb this size.

9 Minghella may have been trying to transfer something of Kip's racial outburst here, but without anything momentous enough to generate such an outburst, the statement utterly lacks motivation.

10 The otherwise identical British edition of this book is entitled Killing in Prose and Verse. But the essay "Thank God for the Atom Bomb" in this collection keeps its original title.

11 In a large study on Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (800 pages), American historian Michael Kammen analyses all kinds of historic amnesia in American history from the times Europeans arrived to Vietnam, but does not mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1991).

12 Especially when long disproved mis-information was still published in all the media during the Enola Gay controversy as Alperovitz remarks with some bitterness (1995: 627 ff.)

13 Victor Ramraj, editor of Ariel, first pointed this out to me in an email (1997).

14 see footnote 5.

15 Hana is one of those nurses with "hardly a world around them" (EP: 40) who "began to believe in nothing, trusted nothing. They broke the way a man dismantling a mine broke the second his geography exploded" (EP: 41).

16 A moment that, as Baudrillard says, and as the debates about the effect of the bombs on humans in the U.S. reveal, many seem indeed to have passed unawares (Baudrillard 1989: 33-34).

17 Such as American exhibitions of nuclear air raids, gold in Swiss bank vaults, chapters in German companies' histories, or belated trials of French high officials.

18 "A literary work is a communal act. And this book could not have been imagined, let alone conceived, without the help of many people" (RF: 205), Ondaatje had written in the "Acknowledgements” to Running in the Family.

19 As Joyce's artist hero, Stephen Dedalus, puts it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "I will [... be] using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile, and cunning" (Joyce 1988: 251).

Auteur

Josef PESCH, Université de Fribourg, i Br., Allemagne.

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1999

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