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From the winner of Australia's National Fiction Prize, author of the hugely acclaimed Gould'sBook of Fish, comes a magisterial, Rashomon-like novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present.
In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thailand - Burma Death Railway in 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings - until he receives a letter that will change him forever.
Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of death, love, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age and prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
This beautiful novel justly received the Man Booker Prize this year. A Guardian reviewer said that to call it a rich tapestry gives too much credit to tapestries. Indeed it does. It is, on a simple level, the story of Dorrigo Evans, a Tasmanian surgeon whose horrific experience with his diseased, crippled and dying Australian POWS, slaves of the Japanese intent on building the Burma Railroad for the Emperor, informs the rest of his life.
It is everything I admire in a piece of writing: chilling, deeply moving, brutal and poetic. But so much more.
Toward the end of the novel, perhaps the last hour, I couldn't move. I found myself standing spellbound in my kitchen, grasping a dripping sponge.
78 of 81 people found this review helpful
I'm really not sure how to describe this book. The writing is the best I've encountered in a very long time. Every sentence is loaded. Magnificent? I wonder if that actually does it justice. I know that judging it on normal terms simply won't do.
Though I've read a lot of WWII history, I've never read anything this realistic about the building of the Burma Railway. To say the conditions were horrific doesn't even begin to describe what those men endured. It's heartbreaking on an unimaginable scale.
So there you have it: the most beautiful writing about the ugliest of conditions. With that contrast, it reaches you in a way few books ever can. But it's more than a book about POWs or the building of an impossible railway. The topics are HUGE - love, war, death, forgiveness, loyalty, obedience, honesty - and that's just for starters. Flanagan made me look at everything in a different light. I was surprised who earned my respect and who earned disdain.
Every now and again an award-winner surfaces that I think has really earned its praise. This is in that special category. Brutal, yes. But absolutely gorgeous. This really is one very special book.
66 of 73 people found this review helpful
This book just won the 2014 Man Booker prize. This was the first year that Americans we allow to compete for the British Award. Richard Flanagan is a Tasmanian, graduated from the University of Tasmania, awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Worcester College Oxford.
Flanagan wrote the book in tribute to his late father, who survived the horrors of “the line” thousand more did not. Beaten and starving, riddled with malaria, cholera, ulcers and beriberi, allied POWs and local workers alike perished in the dense jungle between Thailand and Burma to build a railroad. Forced by their Japanese captures to build a railway between Thailand and Burma under appalling slave labor conditions caused the death of 13,000 POWs and 100,000 local workers. The book reminds me somewhat of the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai.”
Flanagan historical novel protagonist is Dorrigo Evans an Australian Military surgeon. The book covers Evans life from childhood, education, war survival to post war life. During the War he is captured and sent to work on “the line” building the railroad. As a physician he treated both his fellow POWs and the Japanese Commander and his men. After the War Evans is haunted by the experience of the War, Flanagan’s writing reveals danger is omnipresent even after combat recedes, nature careless and monumental in its rains and bush fires.
Flanagan’s historical novel is an examination of what it is to be a good man and a bad man in the same body and, above all, of how hard it is to live after survival. Flanagan is a fine writer and through the voices of a broad cast of characters, he takes us deep into the world of war in the jungles of Burma. Flanagan has written a magnificent historical novel of passion, horror and tragic irony. The story looks at terrible things and creates something beautiful. In researching to write the book Flanagan says he spent many hours interviewing his father obtaining details like the smell of the ulcer hut, the taste of sour rice. He also drew upon published histories and memoirs. For those interested in the history of World War II this is a must read book. David Atlas did a good job narrating the book.
49 of 55 people found this review helpful
2014 Winner of the Man Booker Prize. Flanagan wrote The Narrow Road to the Deep North, inspired to do so by his father, who was a Japanese POW. The book tells the story of the building of a 258 mi. railway connecting Burma and Thailand through terrain that the British government had declared impossible when the land was under their reign prior to the Japanese invasion. In addition to the almost impenetrable jungles, oppressive heat and humidity, the route would require over 600 bridges. After the Japanese invaded and seized Burma, they needed a new route that would eliminate the 2,000 mi sea route that left their supply ships vulnerable to attacks from the Allied Forces, and the Burma Death Rail project began. Flanagan's father survived the brutal forced labor on the Death Railway, but sadly died at age 98 on the day the novel was finished.
The story focuses primarily on Dr. Dorrigo Evans beginning with his early string of affairs until he meets the love of his life, his uncle's new wife, whom he is tragically separated from by the beginning of the war. Early in the listening, I thought it a little confusing following Dorrigo's liasons, and on occasion, even disturbing because of his objectification of women. This is the early, young Doctor who still is to be tempered by his experiences in the war camps.
I had to do a little research, that ended up helping me understand the Dr.'s role at the camp. He was the officer that communicated with the Japanese and Korean soldiers, the angel of life and death that was responsible to choose the prisoners he thought capable of working each day. Lined up in their tattered clothing, near starvation, suffering from ailments that were just waiting to claim their host's life, they waited to be chosen, then dragged into the jungle and beaten to work faster, harder. He was also the doctor that tried to save their lives, working with nothing but stolen and contributed items: pieces of cloth, a little fuel, a piece of string, a dull blade, a saved ball of sour rice, a stolen egg. I thought the following information fascinating and in this context, appalling:
From the Geneva Convention 1929, co-undersigned by HRH The Emperor of Japan
CHAPTER 2. Organization of the Labor: Labor furnished by prisoners of war shall have no direct relation with war operations.
ARTICLE 29: No prisoner of war may be employed at labors for which he is physically unfit.
ARTICLE 30: The length of the day's work of prisoners of war, including therein the trip going and returning, shall not be excessive....
As blatant as they disregarded these concessions, it doesn't compare to the atrocities the Japanese committed against the POWs.
Even in it's unflinching detail of the brutalities, there is a powerful and beautiful feel to this book achieved without flourish. Flanagan with an artful talent, lets us recognize a bit of ourselves in these characters as they endure on the very edge. Amidst the torture, cruelty, death, hunger, the dazzling little acts of fellowship are heartwarming miracles in his hands. Flanagan honors these men that accomplished an awful ordeal. It was enlightening and haunting.
I found the conclusion of the book redemptive -- after I fought back my own vengeful feelings. We hear from the guards and commanders of the camp themselves. Their voices appear throughout the book in bit pieces, and are always powerful looks into the minds of an enemy that saw us as nothing more than *expendable,* but their struggles after the war are fascinating insights to the human psyche. Removed from the role of superiors righteously carrying out their "noble cause", we see the man removed from the evil. Some of them justify their actions, some fear the repercussions, and some come face to face with their deeds and find life unbearable.
Dorrigo is a difficult character; in his war-time role, as a doctor and fellow prisoner, he personifies bravery, strength and compassion. In his civilian life, in the role of man, husband and father, he failed miserably and I struggled with these sections of the book. The narration added a the right touch to a novel deserving of the awards and praise it has received.
22 of 25 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Narrow Road to the Deep North?
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a tragedy of mesmerizing proportion. How can such a black dog of dark depression hold such a beautiful compilation of bright vivid prose? Yet it does in this masterpiece, and this reality speaks to the yin and yang that Flanigan refers to throughout the eloquent novel.<br/><br/>Alas a suggestion, before reading make sure to drive through the pharmacy window at wal-greens and re-up on the three month supply of Sertaline, as it will be an understated requirement.<br/><br/>Why read then, one might ask?<br/><br/>Simple, this future classic is a testimony to what life can be and often is. Furthermore, this brilliant testament reaffirms the human spirit, will to live, and that good and evil are merely polar perspectives with varying shades of grey.
31 of 36 people found this review helpful
A breathtaking story, however hard to get into as the beginning starts slowly. Stick with it. This book left me emotionally drained, and frozen In a moment of deep awe in the final moments. Beautiful..
19 of 22 people found this review helpful
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Don't give up on this book if you are having trouble at the start. During the confusing beginning which jumps from old age to childhood to middle age and back again, the author imparts a significant amount of important information. After reading numerous reviews stating that it was worth getting through the beginning; I stuck with it and I am glad I did. This is a story of loss opportunities, bad decisions and human frailties. At the same time it is a story of courage under difficult and even sometimes horrific circumstances and heroism. It is also a study of the effect the horrors of war have on both those who endure them and those who impose them.
For most of us our knowledge of prisoners of war building the railway through Burma during World War II is limited to watching The Bridge Over the River Kwai. This time we see the story from a closer more personal perspective. We follow Dorrigo Evans as a doctor struggling to keep these prisoners alive and meet some of his fellow prisoners. Following the war we continue to follow Dorrigo but also learn how the war as effected many of the others as well.
Highly recommended. 4*(because of that beginning)
31 of 37 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Narrow Road to the Deep North?
The story and insight into the historical events were expertly mixed with a beautiful love story.
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Narrow Road to the Deep North?
There were many memorable moments- the torture of the prisoners, the loss of a beautiful and intense love affair...
What does David Atlas bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
He reads it perfectly and the Australian accent makes it even more authentic.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
Love in the midst of tragedies ofWorld War II between an Australian medical serviceman and a woman he could not have
Any additional comments?
This author is a true poet. His use of language is exquisite. It is one of my favorite books of all time.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
Absorbing story and beautifully written. I was sorry to leave the world of this fascinating character Dorrigo Evans. Tasmanian bush fires just leapt off the pages. David Atlas as a narrator was rich and perfect for Richard Flanagan's talented words.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
This book starts slowly and the main character, for all his heroism, is a hard man to like. His inability to understand himself is frustrating. His pointless philandering is disappointing. The pointlessness of his life is depressing. And the narrative style sometimes sways perilously close to a parody of the worst of the Romance genre. I also hate to give a book high marks for a writer's ability to vividly imagine man's inhumanity to man, as though evil=gravitas=important. But we live in perilous times where Man's inherent evil is daily paraded before us on the nightly news, so perhaps we deserve to be reminded of our specie's fatal flaws. For all of these reasons I was tempted to give the book no review and a mediocre rating.
But it grows on you. There are many sections that suck you in to a harrowing world where survival is one's whole reason for being, and where survivors eventually try to make sense of living in a post war world. These sections offer a mesmerizing tour-de-force of hypnotic prose that addresses the problem of being human. Or perhaps I'm being unfair to the females of the species, as the evils are all fueled by dehumanizing male fantasies of honor and patriotism, religion and codes of behavior that reward viciousness. Listening to this made me despair of being human, but the writing is, at times, transcendent. What a strange experience.
Not for the faint of heart.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful