Summary – Chapter Ten, ‘August’
Caravaggio comes down to the kitchen and Hana asks if the patient is what he thought he was. He replies, ‘He’s fine. We can let him be’. She says she thought so, and that she and Kip are both sure he is English.
Kip prepares a meal for her birthday and the three talk. Kip tries to find out more about Hana’s nature through Caravaggio, but she only wants him to know her in the present.
She sings the Marseillaise, which she had also done at the age of 16, and Caravaggio notices the difference between then and now. He thinks she now has the voice of ‘a tired traveller’.
The narrative then cuts to the stories Kip tells Hana of his life. It is also explained how she thinks of him going off each morning as a knight, or a warrior saint. The patient refers to him as ‘fate’s fugitive’.
The narrative moves back to Kip in Naples at the beginning of October 1943. The Allies advance should have taken a month but took a year because of the ‘brilliant and terrible’ retreat that was ‘choreographed’ by the German army. This was done with the laying of land mines on a scale that could not have been imagined. It was worse in the cities and even some of the hanging corpses were mined.
In Naples, a large area of the city was evacuated after the confession of a German who said that thousands of bombs were hidden and these were wired to the dormant electricity system. When the power was switched on, ‘the city would dissolve in flames’. 12 sappers including Kip stayed behind to look for fuze lines and were to leave at 2 pm as the electricity would be turned on at 3 pm. The city was deadly silent and at 1 pm Kip visited the Church of San Giovanni a Carbonara and faced the figures of an angel and woman in a bedroom. He decided to sleep there on the floor (after searching all night for dynamite and time cartridges) and thought he would either die or be secure when the electricity was turned back on. At the given time, he saw the bulbs light up (and was therefore safe).
The narrative switches to the present and to the August day that Hana remembers when Kip walks through the field listening to the headphones of his crystal set. She hears him scream and sees him sink to his knees. Kip then goes to his tent and emerges with his rifle. He comes in the villa and enters the ‘English’ patient’s room and is weeping.
He says to the patient how ‘you and then the Americans converted us’ with missionary rules and ‘had wars like cricket’. He tells them to listen ‘to what you people have done’. He is referring to the news of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it is described as ‘this tremor of Western wisdom’. He aims his gun at the patient, and takes the position of those in firing squads (which has been drilled into him).
‘Almásy’ tells him to do it and takes the headset off and removes his hearing aid. Caravaggio explains that he (the patient) is not English and also knows ‘they’ would never have done this to a white nation.
Kip leaves them and in his tent he removes all the military objects and equipment. He goes to the chapel, to the motorbike kept there. Hana comes to him, but ‘he is a stone in front of her’. Before he leaves, Caravaggio hugs him.
The narrative cuts to Kip heading south as he travels against the direction of the invasion. There is a further narrative shift as Hana’s letter to Clara is recorded. This is written the day after hearing that the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan and she says how her father died in a dovecote, in a sacred place.
The narrative returns to Kip in the rain and his accident on the motorbike is described. Both end up in the river after he slips off the side of a bridge.
Hana’s letter is referred to again as she explains how her father ended up in this place because his unit had left him there ‘burned and wounded’. She refers to the ‘sadness of geography’ as she could have nursed him, ‘a burned man’, if she had been there. After the letter, it is mentioned how ‘the sapper’s head’ comes out of the water as he gasps for air.
The novel closes years later and we are told that Kip is now a doctor in India with a wife and child, and his wife nurtures the garden. It is the garden that ‘triggers him back’ to the time he spent at the villa and thinks of Hana and how she is.
Hana is now 34 and moves ‘possibly in the company that is not her choice’. As she nudges a glass, Kip swoops to catch a fork that his daughter drops.
Analysis – Chapter Ten
Kip’s final separation from those in the villa and from the British army comes when he hears the news of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This marks the end of the war in Asia and Caravaggio is used to make the significant point that ‘they’ would never have done this to a white nation. Through Kip, the moral high ground of the Allies is questioned as he refuses to participate in the Imperialist project any longer. His return to India and his decision to be a doctor, confirms how he has returned to the tradition in which he has been raised.