"There is, after Herodotus, little interest by the Western world towards the desert for hundreds of years. From 425 B.C. to the beginning of the twentieth century there is an averting of eyes. Silence. The nineteenth century was an age of river seekers. And then in the 1920s there is a sweet postscript history on this pocket of earth, made mostly by privately funded expeditions and followed by modest lectures given at the Geographical Society at Kensington Gore. "
(book quote from http://home.sprynet.com/~mpvisniewski/tepweb1b.htm)
"Beginning of World War II. A plane crashes spectacularly in the deserts of North Africa. The sole survivor is badly wounded and his burned and dying body is taken to Tuscany: The English Patient (Ralph Fiennes). The Canadian nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche) from Montreal, decides to abandon her Army unit to retreat in the ruins of a bombed-out Tuscan monastery. She has lost her lover (Lothaire Bluteau) in battle not far from where she was serving. Healing from this traumatic experience, she insists on remaining behind with the dying "English Patient", as the Allies head north. Through this arduous process of sacrifice she hopes to find some emotional healing, while helping her mysterious patient to die with dignity. Shortly after, Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) shows up at the monastery. Once a Canadian operator in North Africa, but now turned into a thief. He was captured and tortured by the Nazis, and discovers that the enigmatic English Patient might have had some responsibility in all this. By means of the morphine injections that Hana gives the patient, his strange and traumatic past slowly unfolds. His stories reveal that he's not English at all, but a Hungarian named Count Laszlo de Almasy. The next ones to join Hana and her patient in Tuscany, are Kip (Naveen Andrews), a bomb specialist of the British Army, born in Punjabi, accompanied by his partner, Sergeant Hardy (Kevin Whately). Their task is to dismantle the numerous landmines, left behind by the retreating Germans. Kip and Hana in some way share a common ground, as they both efface themselves in doing what they feel needs to be done. Soon they will become lovers. Flashbacks reveal more and more of Count Almasy's past. Two years before the start of the war, he was in Cairo on an assignment for the British, mapping unknown areas of the desert. His life changed dramatically as a young British couple joined the team: Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton (Colin Firth & Kristen Scott Thomas). Count Almasy and Katharine desperately resisted their forbidden mutual attraction, but circumstances would make things harder and harder for them. A passionate and destructive love-affair between the two followed, escalating and heading for unknown dimensions. This 'secret' liaison carried on, as the war began. Geoffrey would not let things carry on that way though ... "
(Plot summary from http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Set/6950/links.htm)
"... Almasy's merits include the discovery of the lost oasis of Zarzura in the Lybian desert, the discovery of prehistorical paintings in the caves of the Uweinat mountains, the cartography of the Lybian desert (his name is preserved in the name of one "Djebel Almasy"), the development of civil aviation in Egypt and the building of the Al-Maza airport, scientific and geographical data accumulation in Egypt, the Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Abessinia, and Tripoli, and several works published in Hungarian, French, and German about his travels, discoveries, and experiences in the Second World War. In his youth, he studied engineering at the University of London and was employed for a period by the Austrian car manufacturer Steyr. In 1949 he established a distance world record by towing a glider-plane from Paris to Cairo. Just before his death in 1951, he was appointed director of the Desert Institute in Cairo... Almasy's travels in and exploration of Africa with Sir Robert Clayton began after 1931. Clayton was "a young aristocrat taken by sports, who had a pilot's licence, and who was out to do adventure. Sir Robert came to see me in Hungary and offered his collaboration enthusiastically" .... Robert Clayton was born in 1908, fifth and last baronet of Marden and of Hall Place.... He was a British aristocrat who was keenly interested in geographical discovery and in travel. Immediately after his marriage on 29 February 1932, the young aristocrat set out with Count L.E. de Almasy to explore the unknown are of the Lybian Desert north of the Gilf Kebir, and to find the legendary lost oasis called Zerzura. After being lost for several days in the desert and suffering hardships the expedition returned without achieving its object. A full account of the adventure, a map, and illustrations were published in THE TIMES of July 6, 1932. In a few weeks Sir Robert was dead. He developed a disease similar to infantile paralysis, and though respiration was induced by an automatic apparatus he died on September 1, at the age of 24.... Then, in 1933, Almasy and his expedition group discovered the oasis Zarzura; and in 1934 the discovery was presented in London, at the British Geographical Society's meeting, by Wing-Commander H.W.G.J. Penderel and Dr. Richard A. Bermann, his companions. ... The historical data about Lady Clayton East Clayton born Dorothy Mary Durrant (Katherine Clifton in the novel) is less oblique, but they are equally striking in the context of the novel. For the fictional Katherine Clifton "there was a line back to her ancestors that was tactile, whereas he [Almasy] had erased the path he had emerged from" .... The historical data about Lady Clayton is clear: she was "a very experienced pilot ... [she] was also a talented sculptor, and her home, as well as the vicarage of Leverstock Green [her father, Arthur Durrant, was the vicar there], contained many examples of her work".... She accompanied her husband in several desert expeditions and after his death she expressed that "I am only carrying on my husband's work. We always did this sort of thing together. He left with his work unfinished. I want to try and finish it off"..... However, her own expedition in the Lybian desert after the death of her husband, where she flew her own plane, was unsuccessful. There is no indication in the accounts whether she accomplished this expedition with Almasy; in her brief account of the expedition, she writes that she was accompanied by Commander Roundell.... That Lady Clayton and Almasy knew each other from previous expeditions with her husband is obvious; however, in 1933 when Lady Clayton East Clayton organized an expedition with Commander Roundell, Almasy and his group had a parallel expedition at the same time.... After her return to England in May 1933 from this expedition, she lead another expedition to Lapland. Five days after her return to England, on 15 September, 1933, she fell to her death during a short flight at Brooklands. Inexplicably, Lady Clayton appeared to have climbed out of the cockpit and fell out of the plane .... The accident has never been explained although an official inquest was held.... "
(from the essay by Steven Totosy de Zepetnek and mirrored at http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ar/film/englishpatient4.html