Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The lives of Australian Prisoners of War when building part of the Thai-Burma railway for the Japanese Army in 1943 is the background for this novel by Richard Flanagan. Dorrigo Evans, a doctor at the POW camp, endeavours to assist the malnourished men forced to work under horrific conditions to meet the deadlines set by their captors. Episodes in the story are portrayed through the experiences, not only of Dorrigo Evans, but also via some of the prisoners and also their guards and the Japanese officers. Dorrigo Evans is regarded as a hero but he is only too aware of his weaknesses. Over time he needs to come to terms with the horrors encountered in the war and also his relationships, particularly with his family. 

Life in the POW camp is the central part of the book which portrays the brutality, disease, and challenges of trying to keep alive faced by the prisoners. It also illustrates the humanity and comradeship that can survive in such extreme conditions. However the novel also focuses on Dorrigo Evans' relationship with women before and after the war, initially with Amy, the wife of his uncle, and then with his wife, Ella. Later sections of the book also reflect on lives of some of the soldiers who survive the war as well as some of the Japanese officers and POW guards.

This is a study of love and war and death and the search for truth and understanding of events beyond an individual's control. It took me a short while to adjust to the flow of the narrative but then I just had to keep reading until the end.

The title of the novel refers to a poem written by a Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).

The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the 2014 Man Booker prize.

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