‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ is one of the most moving books that I’ve ever read, and the characters – while many of them were heroes, were incredibly real with their pleasant sides as well as their good.
The main character in the story is Dorrigo Evans who as an Australian POW during WWII spent time on the Thai-Burma railway. Before and after the war we see him as a mediocre doctor and a womaniser who had an affair with his uncle’s wife Amy while engaged to Ella who was considered a much more appropriate wife.
The sections of the book where the Australians were involved in the building of the railway, while prisoners of the Japanese, were truly horrific. Starved, lice ridden, ulcerated, malarial men were driven to achieve the impossible and were treated as less than human by their Japanese captors who had been taught that it was better to die than be captured. And many of the men who we got to know in the book died while building the railway.
There’s not really a lot I can say about the story. The book is brilliantly written and you just need to experience it. I found the first 40-50 pages a bit hard to get into, but after that, the book pulled me in completely.
It’s difficult to say that I enjoyed it because no one could possibly enjoy reading about what the Australian POWs went through during the war and what the Australian and Japanese survivors experienced afterwards. But, I loved the writing and Richard Flanagan’s brilliance in giving us this book.
Much of the story was based on fact. Richard Flanagan’s father was a POW on the Thai-Burma railway. Other accounts were also used by Flanagan including the story of Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.
This novel is beautiful and brutal and a must read. It is easy to see why it won this year’s Man Booker prize.
Book Published 2013