The English Patient | Study Guide

Michael Ondaatje

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Course Hero. "The English Patient Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 4 Oct. 2023. <>.

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The English Patient | Epigraph | Summary



An excerpt from the minutes of a meeting of the Geographical Society in London in November 194_ records the opening comments of the speaker. He feels it is important to begin by acknowledging "the tragic circumstances of the death of Geoffrey Clifton," as well as the disappearance of his wife, Katharine. The death and disappearance took place in 1939, while the two were part of an expedition to Gilf Kebir in search of Zerzura, a mythical city.


In the epigraph, the author introduces a dead explorer and his missing wife. Questions of identity are one of the novel's themes, and right away readers are led to wonder who these two people are, and what happened to them. The format of the epigraph, an excerpt of meeting minutes from the Geographical Society, introduces another theme—intertextuality. The author will weave many types of texts, art, and songs into the novel, some fictional, some real. The epigraph mentions the "tragic" death of Geoffrey, and the unexplained disappearance of Katharine Clifton, two characters who will play roles in the narrative. Finally, the epigraph names the location of Gilf Kebir, a plateau in the Sahara, which will be an important setting for several pivotal events in the novel. In just a couple of short paragraphs, the author creates a small window into the world of the book, and invites readers to read further.

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