“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan ( Man Booker Prize Winner)

Narrow Road

The Narrow Road into the Deep North , through shifting time frames and perspectives, develops a story of war, squarely unmatched in recent literature. Ultimately it artfully produces that series of repeated emotional “wacks” which is demanded of any piece of competent literature . If a work of fiction is meant “to do something to you”, this one fulfills its mission.

Only witnessed in the “fiction-only” representations of Tolstoy , Remarque or Mailer. have we been able to get the fully horrific nature of war …….Straight history fails miserably in conveying its totality. Both the War (Pacific WWII) and its aftermath are equally horrific, as portrayed in Flanagan’s detailed  work of historical fiction. It is an equally  startling book to read and then assimilate in the wake of its reading.

The work details in gruesome horror the WWII experiences during the construction of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway (415 km from Thanbyuayat in Burma to Nong Pladuk, Thaland). That construction in the early 40’s is seen through the lens of the Australian troops and their Tasmanian officer, Dr. Dorrigo Evans as he executes his daily danse macabre in dealing with the Japanese Officers and guards who are  maniacally  intent upon building a railroad through the jungles of Thaland and Burma. Ultimately, it would take a near 200,000 men to propel this feat, attempted with  no construction  machinery and in the process killing 16,000  prisoners. The book’s Pacific  focus  zooms in upon Evan’s command of approximately  700 prisoners at a POW encampment in Thailand and draws you through the war, its conclusion and its unavoidably   pathological harvest.

Aside from an incredible depiction of the historical events, we see, the complex , unresolvable post- war lives of Evans and the many actors ( both Australian and Japanese ) in the novel .

I have often thought  of the resilience required of humans  to  simply proceed with  daily life  in the aftermath  of such paroxysms .Without committing to “spoilers”, this dark novel sadly answers some of those questions. As the novel concludes, we are left with not only the sad afflictions of the war itself, but also its emotional and inevitably   mutated  after crop…..We see clearly   that   unvarnished  enormity  of war indelibly spewn over all.

A little bit of Laura Hillenbrand ‘s Unbroken mixed with a more fully and direfully exploded version of Pierre Boulle’s ( Thank you Lee Paquette for your editor’s correction of his name) The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

This is a strong read.

Here is a good link to the actual railway:



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