This is a book review of the book, the Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.
This book is about Prisoners of War in Burma during the Second World War. Most of them are Australian soldiers. The protagonist is Dorrigo Evans, one of the men who actually surive that ordeal. The narrative is a circular one, and keeps returning to this one day in Burma, from before dawn till nightfall which Dorrigo Evans, as a seventy seven year old, reminisces about. It also talks of Dorrigo’s life after he returns to Australia, as well as the lives of the other survivors of the war, (And not necessarily just the prisoners) and how it altered them forever.
This book is woven together masterfully, and seems to unpeel, revealing more and more details, when one wasn’t even aware that details were missing. It’s a wonderful story, in addition to being an accurate and painful representation of the stomach-churning tortures faced by Prisoners of War in Burma. I gave it four stars because the language was too flowery in parts and anyone who knows me knows that it almost always annoys me when the author waxes lyrical unnecessarily. It did work in some parts though, so I have to give him that.
As I stated earlier in my blog, this was not an easy book to read. It took me the better part of a week to read it and I had to keep putting it away to do something happy and mindless like watching sitcoms to calm myself down. However, that isn’t an indictment on the quality of the book because it really is beautifully written and deeply impactful. The subject-matter is itself so disturbing that it could not have been any other way. This is a story that needed to be told, and that needs to be read, and that needs to hurt people, because people need to know the impact that jingoism and war have on human beings. And that’s the point. Richard Flanagan makes sure that we know that the people who went out and fought the war and that were subjected to the horrors were human beings. Real ones. They are fighting not to become mere statistics, to be heard and Flanagan gives them their voice in this book.
I would like to end this review with a quote that was at the beginning of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. (Another painful read and a life time favourite.)
“Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true.”
— Honeore de Balzac in Le Pere Goriot:
I cannot and will not aspire to put it better than that.
Do read this book, but not if you’re already unhappy.