His is a name that one cannot forget after you hear it. It is all the more unforgettable because author Michael Ondaatje chose the real person with this name to be the central fictional character in his book, “The English Patient.” Film producer Saul Zaentz elevated Ondaatje’s sophisticated love and adventure story by employing talented actors and stunning visuals in the popular film of the same name. Honestly, the book and the film have always been on my top ten list of entertainment. Many women especially believe that both the book and film characters Hana (Juliette Binoche) and Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) revealed very much about what a woman wants and how she thinks.
It was the writer and the producer who used the real person of László Almásy, and many of his actual experiences to be at the center of a story that drew both female characters into the bittersweet tale. Who was this guy, László Almásy? He was an Austria-Hungarian, born into nobility, and schooled in English privileged society. From such a start, what might spark him to do extraordinary things? World War I (WW I). He was twenty-one years old when Austria-Hungry pitched into armed conflict when their Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in an open car in Serbia. Almásy joined the 11th Hussars, a saber-wielding cavalry regiment.
Almásy charged with his regiment into gut-wrenching man-to-man combat on several occasions against the Serbs and against the Russians over a two-year period, when he decided that there was not enough action in doing that to keep his attention. He used his noble connections to get reassigned to the new Austro-Hungarian Army Air Force (AAF). As a pilot during the dawn of aviation, he likely flew the Albatross D.III biplane. He definitely flew it into aerial combat on many missions, and he got shot down on one of those missions. Lucky to survive WW I (38% of his brother AAF pilots did not survive), Almásy, now about age 24, saw his exciting life turn into boring peace as WW I ended.
What to do? What to do? For one, thing, he continued to fly. And, he developed an interest in racing cars. The 1920’s spawned exciting development in ever more powerful engines for both cars and airplanes. Again, tapping his nobility connections, he was able to join expeditions that embarked into Africa, mostly in the northern desert regions, where he could both drive cars and fly airplanes. It appears that one of those expeditions in 1932 formed much of the basis, or at least the backdrop for the story, “The English Patient.” For you, I encourage you to web search László Almásy to learn what you can about this adventurer, who only lived to be age 55. Then, read the book, “The English Patient,” slowly, to appreciate the art of a skilled author. Watch the film last. I believe that this story will make your top ten list too.