The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

by Richard Flanagan

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Overview

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” —The Washington Post

In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan displays the gifts that have made him one of the most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo Evans and his fellow prisoners to that of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804171472
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/14/2015
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 167,589
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Richard Flanagan's five previous novels—Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, and Wanting—have received numerous honors and are published in forty-two countries. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He lives in Tasmania.

www.richardflanagan.com

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans’ earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother. A wooden church hall. Blinding light and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach. Over and over.

Bless you, his mother says as she holds him and lets him go. Bless you, boy.

That must have been 1915 or 1916. He would have been one or two. Shadows came later in the form of a forearm rising up, its black outline leaping in the greasy light of a kerosene lantern. Jackie Maguire was sitting in the Evanses’ small dark kitchen, crying. No one cried then, except babies. Jackie Maguire was an old man, maybe forty, perhaps older, and he was trying to brush the tears away from his pockmarked face with the back of his hand. Or was it with his fingers?

Only his crying was fixed in Dorrigo Evans’ memory. It was a sound like something breaking. Its slowing rhythm reminded him of a rabbit’s hind legs thumping the ground as it is strangled by a snare, the only sound he had ever heard that was similar. He was nine, had come inside to have his mother look at a blood blister on his thumb, and had little else to compare it to. He had seen a grown man cry only once before, a scene of astonishment when his brother Tom returned from the Great War in France and got off the train. He had swung his kitbag onto the hot dust of the siding and abruptly burst into tears.

Watching his brother, Dorrigo Evans had wondered what it was that would make a grown man cry. Later, crying became simply affirmation of feeling, and feeling the only compass in life. Feeling became fashionable and emotion became a theatre in which people were players who no longer knew who they were off the stage. Dorrigo Evans would live long enough to see all these changes. And he would remember a time when people were ashamed of crying. When they feared the weakness it bespoke. The trouble to which it led. He would live to see people praised for things that were not worthy of praise, simply because truth was seen to be bad for their feelings.

That night Tom came home they burnt the Kaiser on a bonfire. Tom said nothing of the war, of the Germans, of the gas and the tanks and the trenches they had heard about. He said nothing at all. One man’s feeling is not always equal to all life is. Sometimes it’s not equal to anything much at all. He just stared into the flames.

2

A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else. In his old age Dorrigo Evans never knew if he had read this or had himself made it up. Made up, mixed up, and broken down. Relentlessly broken down. Rock to gravel to dust to mud to rock and so the world goes, as his mother used to say when he demanded reasons or explanation as to how the world got to be this way or that. The world is, she would say. It just is, boy. He had been trying to wrest the rock free from an outcrop to build a fort for a game he was playing when another, larger rock dropped onto his thumb, causing a large and throbbing blood blister beneath the nail.

His mother swung Dorrigo up onto the kitchen table where the lamp light fell strongest and, avoiding Jackie Maguire’s strange gaze, lifted her son’s thumb into the light. Between his sobs Jackie Maguire said a few things. His wife had the week previously taken the train with their youngest child to Launceston, and not returned.

Dorrigo’s mother picked up her carving knife. Along the blade’s edge ran a cream smear of congealed mutton fat. She placed its tip into the coals of the kitchen range. A small wreath of smoke leapt up and infused the kitchen with the odour of charred mutton. She pulled the knife out, its glowing red tip glittering with sparkles of brilliant white-hot dust, a sight Dorrigo found at once magical and terrifying.

Hold still, she said, taking hold of his hand with such a strong grip it shocked him.

Jackie Maguire was telling how he had taken the mail train to Launceston and gone looking for her, but he could find her nowhere. As Dorrigo Evans watched, the red-hot tip touched his nail and it began to smoke as his mother burnt a hole through the cuticle. He heard Jackie Maguire say—

She’s vanished off the face of the earth, Mrs Evans.

And the smoke gave way to a small gush of dark blood from his thumb, and the pain of his blood blister and the terror of the red-hot carving knife were gone.

Scram, Dorrigo’s mother said, nudging him off the table. Scram now, boy.

Vanished! Jackie Maguire said.

All this was in the days when the world was wide and the island of Tasmania was still the world. And of its many remote and forgotten outposts, few were more forgotten and remote than Cleveland, the hamlet of forty or so souls where Dorrigo Evans lived. An old convict coaching village fallen on hard times and out of memory, it now survived as a railway siding, a handful of crumbling Georgian buildings and scattered verandah-browed wooden cottages, shelter for those who had endured a century of exile and loss.

Backdropped by woodlands of writhing peppermint gums and silver wattle that waved and danced in the heat, it was hot and hard in summer, and hard, simply hard, in winter. Electricity and radio were yet to arrive, and were it not that it was the 1920s, it could have been the 1880s or the 1850s. Many years later Tom, a man not given to allegory but perhaps prompted, or so Dorrigo had thought at the time, by his own impending death and the accompanying terror of the old—that all life is only allegory and the real story is not here—said it was like the long autumn of a dying world.

Their father was a railway fettler, and his family lived in a Tasmanian Government Railways weatherboard cottage by the side of the line. Of a summer, when the water ran out, they would bucket water from the tank set up for the steam locomotives. They slept under skins of possums they snared, and they lived mostly on the rabbits they trapped and the wallabies they shot and the potatoes they grew and the bread they baked. Their father, who had survived the depression of the 1890s and watched men die of starvation on the streets of Hobart, couldn’t believe his luck at having ended up living in such a workers’ paradise. In his less sanguine moments he would also say, ‘You live like a dog and you die like a dog.’

Dorrigo Evans knew Jackie Maguire from the holidays he sometimes took with Tom. To get to Tom’s he would catch a ride on the back of Joe Pike’s dray from Cleveland to the Fingal Valley turnoff. As the old draught horse Joe Pike called Gracie amiably trotted along, Dorrigo would sway back and forth and imagine himself shaping into one of the boughs of the wildly snaking peppermint gums that fingered and flew through the great blue sky overhead. He would smell damp bark and drying leaves and watch the clans of green and red musk lorikeets chortling far above. He would drink in the birdsong of the wrens and the honeyeaters, the whipcrack call of the jo-wittys, punctuated by Gracie’s steady clop and the creak and clink of the cart’s leather traces and wood shafts and iron chains, a universe of sensation that returned in dreams.

They would make their way along the old coach road, past the coaching hotel the railway had put out of business, now a dilapidated near ruin in which lived several impoverished families, including the Jackie Maguires. Once every few days a cloud of dust would announce the coming of a motorcar, and the kids would appear out of the bush and the coach-house and chase the noisy cloud till their lungs were afire and their legs lead.

At the Fingal Valley turnoff Dorrigo Evans would slide off, wave Joe and Gracie goodbye, and begin the walk to Llewellyn, a town distinguished chiefly by being even smaller than Cleveland. Once at Llewellyn, he would strike north-east through the paddocks and, taking his bearings from the great snow-covered massif of Ben Lomond, head through the bush towards the snow country back of the Ben, where Tom worked two weeks on, one week off as a possum snarer. Mid-afternoon he would arrive at Tom’s home, a cave that nestled in a sheltered dogleg below a ridgeline. The cave was slightly smaller than the size of their skillion kitchen, and at its highest Tom could stand with his head bowed. It narrowed like an egg at each end, and its opening was sheltered by an overhang which meant that a fire could burn there all night, warming the cave.

Sometimes Tom, now in his early twenties, would have Jackie Maguire working with him. Tom, who had a good voice, would often sing a song or two of a night. And after, by firelight, Dorrigo would read aloud from some old Bulletins and Smith’s Weeklys that formed the library of the two possum snarers, to Jackie Maguire, who could not read, and to Tom, who said he could. They liked it when Dorrigo read from Aunty Rose’s advice column, or the bush ballads that they regarded as clever or sometimes even very clever. After a time, Dorrigo began to memorise other poems for them from a book at his school called The English Parnassus. Their favourite was Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’.

Pockmarked face smiling in the firelight, gleaming bright as a freshly turned out plum pudding, Jackie Maguire would say, Oh, them old timers! They can string them words together tighter than a brass snare strangling a rabbit!

And Dorrigo didn’t say to Tom what he had seen a week before Mrs Jackie Maguire vanished: his brother with his hand reaching up inside her skirt, as she—a small, intense woman of exotic darkness—leaned up against the chicken shed behind the coaching house. Tom’s face was turned in on her neck. He knew his brother was kissing her.

For many years, Dorrigo often thought about Mrs Jackie Maguire, whose real name he never knew, whose real name was like the food he dreamt of every day in the POW camps—there and not there, pressing up into his skull, a thing that always vanished at the point he reached out towards it. And after a time he thought about her less often; and after a further time, he no longer thought about her at all.

3

Dorrigo was the only one of his family to pass the Ability Test at the end of his schooling at the age of twelve and so receive a scholarship to attend Launceston High School. He was old for his year. On his first day, at lunchtime, he ended up at what was called the top yard, a flat area of dead grass and dust, bark and leaves, with several large gum trees at one end. He watched the big boys of third and fourth form, some with sideburns, boys already with men’s muscles, line up in two rough rows, jostling, shoving, moving like some tribal dance. Then began the magic of kick to kick. One boy would boot the football from his row across the yard to the other row. And all the boys in that row would run together at the ball and—if it were coming in high—leap into the air, seeking to catch it. And as violent as the fight for the mark was, whoever succeeded was suddenly sacrosanct. And to him, the spoil—the reward of kicking the ball back to the other row, where the process was repeated.

So it went, all lunch hour. Inevitably, the senior boys dominated, taking the most marks, getting the most kicks. Some younger boys got a few marks and kicks, many one or none.

Dorrigo watched all that first lunchtime. Another first-form boy told him that you had to be at least in second form before you had a chance in kick to kick—the big boys were too strong and too fast; they would think nothing of putting an elbow into a head, a fist into a face, a knee in the back to rid themselves of an opponent. Dorrigo noticed some smaller boys hanging around behind the pack, a few paces back, ready to scavenge the occasional kick that went too high, lofting over the scrum.

On the second day, he joined their number. And on the third day, he found himself up close to the back of the pack when, over their shoulders, he saw a wobbly drop punt lofting high towards them. For a moment it sat in the sun, and he understood that the ball was his to pluck. He could smell the piss ants in the eucalypts, feel the ropy shadows of their branches fall away as he began running forward into the pack. Time slowed, he found all the space he needed in the crowding spot into which the biggest, strongest boys were now rushing. He understood the ball dangling from the sun was his and all he had to do was rise. His eyes were only for the ball, but he sensed he would not make it running at the speed he was, and so he leapt, his feet finding the back of one boy, his knees the shoulders of another and so he climbed into the full dazzle of the sun, above all the other boys. At the apex of their struggle, his arms stretched out high above him, he felt the ball arrive in his hands, and he knew he could now begin to fall out of the sun.

Cradling the football with tight hands, he landed on his back so hard it shot most of the breath out of him. Grabbing barking breaths, he got to his feet and stood there in the light, holding the oval ball, readying himself to now join a larger world.

As he staggered back, the melee cleared a respectful space around him.

Who the fuck are you? asked one big boy.

Dorrigo Evans.

That was a blinder, Dorrigo. Your kick.

The smell of eucalypt bark, the bold, blue light of the Tasmanian midday, so sharp he had to squint hard to stop it slicing his eyes, the heat of the sun on his taut skin, the hard, short shadows of the others, the sense of standing on a threshold, of joyfully entering a new universe while your old still remained knowable and holdable and not yet lost—all these things he was aware of, as he was of the hot dust, the sweat of the other boys, the laughter, the strange pure joy of being with others.

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the acclaimed novel by Richard Flanagan.

1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North? Why might Flanagan have chosen to name his book after Basho’s well-known travelogue by the same name?

2. Consider the structure of the novel. How does the division and organization of the passages help to underscore the themes of time and memory that are revisited throughout the book? Likewise, consider how the structure allows the author to present a variety of points of view. What common themes does this help to uncover and what does it reveal about the common experiences of the characters? Does this form allow us to make any generalizations about the common human experience? Alternatively, how does the structure of the novel help to inform us about the difficulties and loneliness of the personal human experience?

3. How does the author’s “visual” portrait of the characters and the places they inhabit inform us about the state of the characters and shape our reaction to their story? Evaluate Flanagan’s choice of imagery and language. What type of imagery and language is most prevalent in the book? Does Flanagan employ much symbolism? How does this ultimately shape our experience of the book and our understanding of the major themes addressed therein?

4. The POWs are put to work—often to their deaths—as slaves building a railway for the Japanese emperor. What does this railway represent to the Japanese people and their leader? Why are they so devoted to its construction that they can be driven to violence and murder to ensure its completion? Nakamura says that the English also utilized “non-freedom” in order to ensure progress in their own country. What does this seem to indicate about the nature of progress and how do his comments change our perception of both the European and the Asian characters and what is happening on the Line?

5. Which of the characters believe that they are “good men”? How do they each define “goodness”? Does their self-analysis remain consistent throughout the story? If not, what seems to affect this? Is their self-perception in line with how we, as readers, perceive them? Does Flanagan provide us with a clear sense of who is “right” and who is “wrong” in the story—or who is “good” and who is “evil”? What does this seem to reveal about ethics and the matter of good and evil? Can we draw any conclusions at the book’s end about what it ultimately means to be a “good” person?

6. Evaluate Flanagan’s depiction of the dual nature of man. Consider representations of good and evil, of man as philosopher-poet and man as animal, of the public and private self. Does it seem to be possible for man to resist this dual nature? Does the novel indicate whether man can choose which side of his dual nature prevails over the other or is this beyond man’s control?

7. Early in the novel, Dorrigo in his old age recalls a saying: “A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else”. What does this saying mean? What message does the book ultimately seem to impart about memory and remembrance? Upon deciding whether to keep Rabbit’s illustrations of the war, Bonox Baker says that “memory is the true justice” while Dorrigo, at this point in the story, believes it can be “the creator of new horrors”. Is it better to remember and even speak about one’s past or to remain silent and try to forget? What examples of this from the novel support your point of view?

8. The passages that feature Nakamura after the war reveal his struggle to understand himself and his past actions. Does he believe that the violence he committed or ordered was justified? What conclusion does he come to at the end of his life? How does his viewpoint evolve over the course of his lifetime and what influences this thought process and his understanding of himself and his actions during the war? Do any other characters also submit themselves to this process of self-analysis and philosophical inquisition? Are their experiences very similar?

9. Does The Narrow Road to the Deep North ultimately answer the question “What is a hero?” Who in the novel can be defined as a hero and what are some of the heroic actions depicted in the book? Are some of the characters more naturally suited to be leaders or is the role of leader or hero one they assume only because it is demanded of them? What proof do we find of this throughout the novel?

10. Flanagan writes: “Horror can be contained within a book, given form and meaning. But in life horror has no more form than it does meaning”. Does Flanagan’s novel give form and meaning to horror and suffering or does he resist this in his own work? Consider the places in the text where the themes of futility and the meaninglessness of suffering and horror surface. What does the description of the death of Darky Gardiner seem to contribute to this dialogue? Do the Europeans and the Japanese share similar views of death and suffering? If not, how do they differ and what seems to cause these differences in philosophy?

11. Evaluate the relationship between Dorrigo Evans and Amy Mulvaney. Why do they initially seem to be drawn to each other? What obstacles do they face as a couple? Could any of these obstacles have been overcome? While they are playing cards, one of Amy’s friends says, “Love is public . . . or it’s not love”. Do you agree with this statement? Can Dorrigo and Amy’s relationship be defined as love? If not, how would you categorize their relationship? When Dorrigo and Amy see each other on the bridge many years after their affair, why do they walk past each other?

12. Consider the many representations and definitions of love in the novel: love as duty, as romance, as magnetism, as friendship, as devotion, as annihilation, etc. Does one form of love seem to prevail over all of the others in the book? What can readers learn about love through their understanding of the characters’ varied experiences with love or its lack?

13. Are there any representations of faith in the novel? If so, to what are the characters faithful? There are also many examples of faithlessness and unfaithfulness to be found in the book. What causes the characters to lose their faith or to be unfaithful?

14. Many of the characters in the book share a love of poetry and literature. How does our knowledge of their love of literature alter our perception of their character? What might their interest in the arts reveal about the common human experience? Flanagan also chose to incorporate poetry by Basho, Issa, Tennyson, and others throughout the text in epigraphs and excerpts. Why might he have chosen to utilize poetry in this way?

15. Evaluate Dorrigo’s relationship with Ella. Why does Dorrigo choose to marry Ella? How does their relationship evolve—or not—over the course of the story? What does their relationship seem to indicate about love and family? Can we conclude whether or not Dorrigo truly loved Ella?

16. Keith and Ella both choose to lie to their partners. Why? How do these lies affect their lives thereafter? Do you believe that their actions were justified? Is anything gained by their dishonesty?

17. What messages does the novel impart about war and its aftermath? How do the former POWs respond to their new lives after the war is over? What are the lives of the Japanese soldiers like after the war? How has the war changed them and how has it changed life at home in each of their countries? What does this seem to imply about war and what the various characters endured throughout the war?

18. The Narrow Road to the Deep North begins with Dorrigo’s recollection of a church hall flooded with light. This image is recalled again at the story’s conclusion. Do you believe that this imagery is meant to represent some prevalent positive force—hope, faith, or optimism, for example?—or is it simply meant to provide a stark contrast to the dark material that fills the book?

19. What is the significance of Charon’s circle death poem at the start and the conclusion of the story? What does the circle represent and how does Dorrigo come to understand its meaning?

20. At the conclusion of the story, Flanagan presents us with the image of Dorrigo opening a book only to find out that the final pages have been torn out. Why do you think that the author chooses to employ this image at the story’s end?

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
If anyone had recommended to me a novel about Australian POWs in a WWII Japanese prison camp in Thailand, I would probably say "no thanks." But then I saw the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, on the bookshelf at the villa where we vacation and it kept beckoning to me. Every time I passed that bookshelf, the pull to read it felt stronger. I finally gave in and picked up last year's Man Booker Prize winner and dove in. From the very beginning, I was in the thrall of this incredible story with writing that was beyond beautiful. Early on, the main character Dr. Dorrigo Evans has to write a forward for a book of drawings by a fellow POW. "He looked at his forward, written, as ever, in his customary green ink, with the simple, if guilty, hope that in the abyss that lay between his dream and his failure there might be something worth reading in which the truth could be felt." That sentence from page 21 is a stunning example of the gorgeous language in this emotionally powerful novel. Another is this one: "Dorrigo Evans hated virtue, hated virtue being admired, hated people who pretended he had virtue or pretended to virtue themselves. And the more he was accused of virtue as he grew older, the more he hated it. He did not believe in virtue. Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause." Dr. Evans becomes a celebrity in Australia because of his POW experience, and we see him as an older man looking back on his life experience. He is a famous doctor, long married to a woman whom he consistently cheats on. As a young man waiting to go to war, he falls in love and has a passionate affair with his uncle's wife, a woman who becomes the love of his life, the woman he cannot forget. Although he loves Amy, he marries Ella, but it is Amy he keeps in his heart during his captivity and beyond. The bulk of the story takes place in a Japanese POW prison camp. As an officer and a doctor, Dorry's rank gave him a little authority. The men in the camp were used as slave labor to build a railroad. The Japanese wanted to show the world their superiority by building a railroad from Thailand to Burma. The camp conditions were brutal, and the Japanese soldiers running it were savage. Dorry did his best to shield the sickest prisoners from inhuman work, but he couldn't always win. We meet the men in the camp and see how strong the will to survive truly is. The men are beaten and starved and forced to work at slave labor. They are pushed beyond human limits, and injury, disease and death are constant companions. The Japanese officers believe that the prisoners' work will glorify the Japanese empire, and their complaints about the brutal conditions confound them. They were treated similarly by their superiors, and feel the prisoners are weak-willed. The scenes in the camp are horrific and hard to read. The men must work together to survive, yet each man is ultimately on his own as we see in the most harrowing and powerful scene. The one thing that shines through this astonishing novel is the power of human resilience, the strength of the will to survive.  At the end of the novel, we see what happened to many of the men, including the Japanese officers, which I found enlightening. My review cannot possibly do justice to this phenomenal literary achievement, I'm not sure any review can. The only thing I can say is that to miss out on reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North would be a huge loss. This is a book that will live on in my mind for a very long time.
semcdwes More than 1 year ago
<b>The Narrow Road to the Deep North</b> by Richard Flanagan 5 Stars Pub 2014 So many stories are told about the events of WWII, but for some reason they tend to focus on what was happening in Europe and ignore the events happening across the globe. The cruelty with which the Japanese are known to have treated the nations they conquered and POWs cannot be equaled. Though they did not practice genocide, much of what they did is comparable to the cruelty of the Nazis.  This is a story of an Australlian surgeon, Dorrigo Evans, who is struggling not only to keep himself alive, but also the men who serve under him as POWs toiling on the Thai-Burmese railway. Conditions were astonishingly grim. Sickness, disease, starvation, and grevious bodily harm were the daily companions of Dorrigo and his men. Alongside this, Dorrigo is haunted by the memory of an affair he had before leaving for the war. This affair will have consequences that echo through his life until his dying day.  I finished this book a week ago, and I am still struggling to find words to adequetly describe my feelings about it. It is exceptionally well-written, particuarly the characterization of the soldiers in the POW camp and the descriptions of their suffering. I also loved how the author was able to tie together the seemingly unimportant events of the novel's opening to a shocking revelation near the end. The whole thing just blew me away, start to finish. It is grim and upsetting, but a war novel dealing with the events of which this one does, should be. It is also incredibly beautiful and moving. The language used is profound and lyrical. I highlighted many passages in this book, something I rarely feel the need to do. My only quibble with this book is that I often preferred when the book told the story through the eyes of the soldiers serving with Dorrigo or his wife. Dorrigo was a hard man to understand, though he is not unlikable.  I can not understand why this book has not received more buzz among readers. It is exactly the type of book that readers of literary fiction seem to love and absolutely deserving of the Man Booker prize it won. I highly recommend this book and can not rave about it enough. I am certain it will make my top ten this year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story has parts that are extremely graphic and gruesome. But if you can get through that section you will find a beautifully written story. The story revolves around the life of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor in a POW camp during WWII.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction of a life, a love and the journey. Some of the subject matter is difficult to read about but its definately a read for those who want some depth in the subject matter of their latest read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read - this book echos long after the last page. Thank you Richard Flanagan.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
4.5 stars “There was around him an exhausted emptiness, an impenetrable void cloaked this most famously collegial man, as if he already lived in another place – forever unravelling and refurling a limitless dream or an unceasing nightmare, it was hard to know – from which he would never escape. He was a lighthouse whose light could not be relit” The Narrow Road to The Deep North is the sixth novel by award-winning Australian author, Richard Flanagan. Despite his humble beginnings in a remote Tasmanian village filled with “verandah-browed wooden cottages”, Dorrigo Evans is clever enough to get scholarships for high school and university. He leaves the locale where he used to “smell the damp bark and drying leaves and watch clans of green and red musk lorikeets chortling far above. He would drink in the birdsong of the wrens and the honeyeaters, the whipcrack call of the jo-wittys…” By 1940, he is a promising young surgeon, engaged to Ella Lansbury, a girl from the right sort of family, when he joins the army. Stationed near Adelaide while awaiting dispatch overseas, Dorrigo’s chance encounter with his Uncle Keith’s young second wife, Any Mulvaney, results in a liaison he could neither have anticipated nor resisted. A few years on, Dorrigo Evans is a Prisoner of War, in command of a thousand men charged with building the Burma Railway, where cruelty and death were unwelcome, but commonplace: “They had smoked to keep the dead out of their nostrils, they had joked to keep the dead from preying on their minds, they had eaten to remind themselves they were alive…” Dorrigo is constantly wracked with feelings of inadequacy, but “He could do this, he told himself… He had no belief he could do it, but others believed he could do it. And if he believed in them believing in him, maybe he could hold onto himself” The survivors return home to a life that feels alien: “He didn’t fit with his own life anymore, his own life was breaking down, and all that did fit – his job, his family – seemed to be coming apart”. Dorrigo goes through the motions, marries, has three children and “Occasionally, he felt something within him angry and defiant, but he was weary in a way he had never known, and it seemed far easier to allow his life to be arranged by a much broader general will than by his own individual, irrational and no doubt misplaced terrors” A celebrated surgeon and a war hero, Dorrigo despises the society of which he is part: “He did not believe in virtue. Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause”. From those who have been there, he sometimes hears words of wisdom: “Adversity brings out the best in us, the podgy War Graves Commission officer sitting next to him had said… It’s the everyday living that does us in” Using multiple narrators, Flanagan examines the well-known cruelty of the Japanese captors from both sides. He also exposes the staggeringly selfish attitudes of POW officers, the sometimes secretive, sometimes selfish and sometimes extraordinarily generous behaviour of enlisted men, and also the postwar politics of punishment. With descriptive prose that is exquisite, it is no wonder that this novel is a winner of several awards and a nominee for many more. Profoundly moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I have read other books about the war but never about this part of world and the Australian soldiers. Some descriptions of life in the POW camp were so graphic and heartbreaking I had to put the book down for a moment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent fiction for those interested in history. As an American, was previously unaware of the Australian contribution to WW2. The POW content can be poignant to the point of disturbing at times but is intermixed with latter-day scenes which maintain the intensity and suspense of the story. In addition, the more philosophical aspects regarding introspection of one's life etc. . give the reader significant "food for thought."
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
So, remember that movie The English Patient? Remember how there was the Ralph Fiennes/Kristen Scott Thomas Story and the Juliette Binoche/Naveen Andrews story? And how neither seemed to quite fit with each other. That's how this book plays out. There are so many things I adored about this book. The prose. The haiku's. The characters. And yet. And yet? And yet. It could have easily been 150 pages shorter and the only thing missing would be the fat. The story of Dorigo Evans as a POW in a Japanese camp in, now Thailand, is the story that's worth reading. It's worth suffering through the first 100 pages to get to it. Ok, maybe not suffering b/c the writing is so lovely. But what do I care about Amy? Nothing. I get that there is the message of the horrors of love and war, but honestly, the love part didn't work for me. The POW part was incredibly moving - Flanagan paid such incredible care and attention to developing each character at the camp. He made them so three dimensional. It wasn't a caricature of Japanese/Korean bad, Aussie good. It was mixed, and the reasoning was mixed. The middle/end chapters were so incredibly moving and heartbreaking that had the book not been so confused, this would have been one of the best books I've ever read. But Flanagan, in my opinion, ruins it w/ the Dorrigo/Amy love story. It reads a little trite in such a beautiful tome. I'm sure I'm alone in that assessment, but the romance of it takes away from the rest of the novel, and so I would give this 4 1/2 stars if I could, but I can't.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written novel. I loved it. ~*~ LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This just felt so real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Admittedly, I set the book aside at page 160 because my time is valuable to me. Both the good and the evil, the abused and the abusers in the patriarchal culture described in this book, do not know themselves and take no responsibility for their numerous betrayals. No one seems to have insight and are inexorably led by their unconscious complexes. For this reason I found that a story about true events could have gone much deeper than showing lead characters who conducted themselves in various states of hopeless post traumatic distress. Eleanor Cowan, Author of : A History of a Pedophile's Wife
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The Ob<_>erjarl watches the hall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whaaa i come from ethics i just wanted to make another camp......is that so bad? I didnt mean to copy anyone i will take it down if you want
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This place is a copy of Zeph only worse. :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in looking around