michael ondatjee

"Sunlight pours into his Cairo room. His hand flabby over the Herodutus journal, all the tension in the rest of his body, so he writes words down wrong, the pen sprawling as if without spine. He can hardly write down the word sunlight. The words in love."

There are a few writers whose work I go back to again and again and still get that familiar heady feeling, that urge to curl inside the written word and stay there for a moment. Michael Ondatjee is one of them.

I first fell in love with the movie The English Patient, quoting phrases and writing them down in my journal inside the darkened theater. But while I loved the movie, it was the script that really moved me. And when I learned that the film was an adaptation of a novel, I started obsessively searching for the book, any book by Michael Ondatjee. This was back when I was still a freshman in college in the Philippines and English books were quiet expensive then.

I remember how my friend Mai and I would go to the bookstore almost everyday, checking the shelves for "The Book". When it finally arrived, we didn't have enough money to buy it so we started reading a chapter or two inside the bookstore, putting it down guiltily each time a sales associate would come near us. You see, "free reading" is not allowed in bookstores in the Philippines, especially for "imported" books. Imagine my delight when I came here and learned that I can go to a bookstore and read to my heart's content!

There's a chapter in The English Patient that I loved the most, its called Katherine, and if you're familiar with the movie, this is the part that revealed just how much Almasy had loved Katherine, despite, or maybe because of, the forbidenness of it all. This line, in particular, really captures the passion and inevitability of their ill-fated affair:

"How does this happen? To fall in love and be disassembled?"

Sigh. How does it happen, indeed?

*Photo taken inside the poetry room at City Lights Bookstore


  1. "How does this happen? To fall in love and be disassembled?"

    what a line indeed.

  2. I love this writer and definitely enjoyed the movie adaptation of the book. Great one!

  3. I've been trying to catch up with your posts. It's so nice to read your rich words, the fullness on the computer of where you are.

    Love this exploration especially, and of your dancing class, and sad at the stolen trust.

    Hugs & more hugs!

  4. AnonymousMay 12, 2010

    It's great when an author really knows how to express the human condition.