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The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard…

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014)

by Richard Flanagan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,9871134,872 (4.08)2 / 323
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English (111)  Dutch (1)  All languages (112)
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
WOW!!! What a book!

* it’s moving yet sensitive;
* it’s raw with a no-holds bar attitude;
* it’s gruesome yet gripping;
* it sends you on a emotional roller-coaster ride yet somehow you can’t bring yourself to stop reading it even if you wanted to;
* it reminds me of The Memory Room;
* the lack of speech marks somehow adds to the story - it’s like a reflection spanning many years;
* it’s a story of contradictions - hopelessness yet they clung to routines with great fervour always hoping they’ll make it out alive even though specifically expressed;
* it’s book that trying to describe it doesn’t do it justice - it needs to be experienced.

This book leaves the reader with so many questions:

1. How can humans treat fellow humans how the Japanese treated these POWs?
2. How can the Japanese (not sure if this is the case today) value life with such contempt and live with themselves?
3. Am I putting an Australian understanding of the value of life onto a culture that doesn’t share this belief?
4. How would I behave in the same situation?
5. Would I stand up to the Japanese or would I do what Dorrigo and others did and stand by and let the treatment that was meted out on the soldiers to continue? Would this make me as bad as the Japanese or do the normal rules of life not apply in a war situation?

This book tears at the heartstrings. I cried when Marco refused to take payment for the damage they did to the shop window and the fish, not because I mourned the scene but because this gesture of Marco’s showed a level of understanding that can only be shared between people who have experienced similar situations. This was further confirmed by his comment “it is good to eat”. This one statement held the rawest of truth and expressed so much more.

This book is an emotional roller-coaster ride which has a way of getting under your skin before you realise that it has done. I found I had to take a breather from the rawness and horror of the railway men’s plight - it was almost too painful to bear. It was at times ripping me apart.

Some of the characters:

Dorrigo and Amy - The Dorrigo and Amy scene I didn’t feel added to the story very much and I was glad when they didn’t get back together. This book was not about, dare I say, frilly endings but rather about the harshness of something that belies all logic and decent humanity.

It show-cased how life is never the same after war for all those who were affected by it, but it also showed how easy it is to live in, and for, what could have been (i.e. Dorrigo essentially stopped living - or living a lie perhaps - because Amy wasn’t a part of his life anymore). Almost like Ella was second prize and yet she was exactly what he needed to continue living post the railway nightmare.

Japanese soldiers and Nakamura - I found myself wanting to hate the Japanese soldiers & Nakamura for what they were doing to the Aussie POWs, instead I found I was unable to because I realised that they were as much victims of their superiors as the POWs were of them. They were all puppets on a string.

Summing up:
It showed how it is possible for humans to perform the most heinous attrocities yet somehow still manage to block out the severity of what they’re doing - probably because if they didn’t they would not be able to cope. ( )
  zarasecker18 | Aug 22, 2018 |
Must read - Brilliant - Unforgettable - Important - Crushing - Great for Smart Book Clubs -

So sorry, wrote a long heart felt review and it vanished! Cannot replicate! Just read this book!
For Goodreads reviews that will convince you see:

Ron Charles - Washington Post
Sally Howes
Kim (Nov 02 2013) has a link to a wonderful article written by the author about how he came to write this book about his father's war time experience as a POW and his research for the book. The article is a perfect finale to the book as it clarifies what was fact and what was fictionalized, what was his father's reaction to his writing the book, what the author found when he interviewed former prison guards, what happened when he told this to his Dad (incredible!) and more. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
"Why at the beginning of things is there always light?"

My head is full of a plethora of thoughts that, somehow, need to find their way into a text? Or do they? Probably not. This must be one of the most difficult reviews I have chosen to write and this is not a cliche. It's reality. Difficult because how can one possibly describe the horrors brought about by monsters in one of the darkest eras of History that, sadly seems not too far away or lost in time? Difficult because love and pain and lose are feelings that cannot be easily turned into paragraphs or measured by phrases "this is good", "this is bad". Difficult because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how mesmerizing the writing was at times, this book will not enter my favourites. We failed to form any kind of connection.

Dorrigo Evans is a surgeon in the Australian Army during the nightmare of the Second World War. He and his regiment are now prisoners of war in a Japanese camp in Burma and the plague is quickly descending. So he is needed by friends and enemies alike, because there is a bridge that needs to be built and it won't wait. Dorrigo struggles to keep his men alive, physically and psychologically, and most of all, he tries to preserve his own will to live and not give up. Because he started feeling dead long before he became a POW. His mind travels back in time, to his younger days, and to the event that defined him and defeated him more than any other battle he had ever given. His relationship with Amy, a young woman, his uncle's wife.

"A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else."

Dorrigo is the most complex, interesting character in those pages. He is a kind human being, considerate and brave. He loves with all his heart, he fights to keep his men with him, but he is never happy. He cannot find happiness, he feels that every joy is a fleeting moment for which he is somehow unworthy. There were parts when I felt that Dorrigo had actually fallen victim to a weird notion of self-depreciation, of self-pity. He was broken beyond repair. But why? For whom? For Amy? For himself?

"My disgraceful, wicked heart", thought Amy, " is braver than the world."

It seemed to me that Amy was the driving force of the story. She is definitely a controversial character, but she provides life. When I was reading Amy's POV, I was thinking that Flanagan had reserved the most beautiful language in this novel for her. There is a calmness and a tenderness, a childish spirit that suits Amy, although we somehow feel that the storm is about to break, on many levels. That the underlying terrors will soon become reality. And even though, many may call her "wicked", "selfish" or "manipulative", for me she is the breath of life in the book.

Flanagan provides many points of view. Too many, in my opinion. He divides the stories of the Australian and the Japanese characters almost equally and I found that this made the story significantly slower. I appreciated the Haiku references and the fact that he didn't omit the enemy's voice, creating a highly balanced narration. What I felt as a reader was that these characters weren't interesting enough to turn my mind away from Dorrigo and Amy's fate. As simple as that. They obviously served the purpose of the writer (and I don't dare to presume as to what it was) but they made me lose much of my initial connection to the story. I admit I skimmed quite a few pages of the Japanese chapters. I couldn't bring myself to care for them. In addition, the part of the book set after the end of the war felt slow, flat and melodramatic.

There were two things I deeply appreciated in the novel. First, Flanagan's use of the question of morality was exceptional. What is considered "moral"? What of the feelings that are experienced by all of us and may come in utter contrast with issues like fidelity or bravery or mercy? Especially in times of war when these things cease to matter. The second was the way the horrors of the camp were depicted. I found the chapters harrowing, haunting, raw, but not in any way disgusting or written for the sake of shock value. In fact, a minor issue I had was that there were times when I thought he played it safe, choosing the "easier" road. Sometimes, the situation called for language with more punch, more tension. There have been films and books about the subject that are more nightmarish, more realistic even.

The writing was at times exceptionally poignant and darkly poetic. Other times, I found it verbose, tiresome, melodramatic. Apart from the interactions in the camp, I felt that the dialogue resembled the old 40s films. Now, perhaps my stone -hearted self has taken over (once again...), but in my opinion, dialogue such as this is a bit unrealistic and inconsistent with the powerful themes dealt with in the rest of the novel. Keith and Ella's characters seemed copied out of cliches and I couldn't abide with this.

My journey with this Booker Prize winner started in anticipation and excitement, but somehow, my way fell flat. Yes, this is a special book, beautiful in a disturbing way. However, when I skipped too many pages, when I felt nothing, no connection throughout the story, when I compare it to other war novels, I cannot bring myself to rate it more than 3 stars. Will I recommend it to a friend? Certainly. Do I consider it memorable? Yes. But I do not think this is the best war novel ever written and certainly not one of the best books ever written. It gave me nothing I hadn't read before.... ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a story of the forced labor construction of the Burmese Railway by Australian POW’s in WWII. If you have ever seen Bridge on the River Kwai, you know about the Railway, but even then you may not be aware of the extreme cruelty and horrid conditions under which these men labored and died. I can scarcely bear to read about it, how on earth did any of them survive it? Is it any wonder that so few men who returned ever wanted to talk about these times and experiences?

Of course, this is a fiction, so there is a personal story that swims through the historical one. It is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a doctor who helps to hold together the men of the camp, and who suffers from his own anguish that stems from his affair with his uncle’s young wife. This book courses with realism, to an extent that is hard to bear. I found myself at many points simply unable to go any further without taking a step away from the book and the time that preyed on my mind so deeply. It must have been an excruciating book to write.

As well, I was constantly wanting to stop and record passages that bore remembering, particularly those dealing with the facing of the threat of death on a daily basis and those regarding memory.

Do you know the poem, Bonox? It’s by Kipling. It’s not about remembering. It’s about forgetting--how everything gets forgotten.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Neneveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!

Nothing endures. Don't you see, Bonox? That's what Kipling meant. Not empires, not memories. We remember nothing. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe most of a life, if we live. Maybe. But then we will die, and who will ever understand any of this? And maybe we remember nothing most of all when we put our hands on our hearts and carry on about not forgetting."

If anything lays testament to the elusive nature of life, this ordeal does. These men are confronted with life as merely a path to death, and survival at any cost as a goal hardly worth holding onto. What one man is able to do to another, and to justify to themselves, is astonishing...and it is always astonishing, regardless of how many such stories you hear or how many such acts you witness.

I knew very well a man who had been a soldier in Vietnam. He found it difficult to talk about what he had seen in the jungles there, and yet, his mind never strayed far from that place or that time. He replayed events and lost people and atrocities that seemed impossible to have happened to such a sweet, kind American boy. I used to ponder over what he might have been had he not been haunted by that intrusion into his life, if he had never felt the need to drown his memories and silence those ghostly voices. I thought of him as I read this book. War is hell, in ways that even Sherman could not have imagined, and is it any wonder that those who survive are never the same?

The things he believed in were heading out to sea, vanishing, lost forever. The things he thought he was coming home to. The things that he had hoped to become and make his life. It turned out that they weren’t worth a brass razoo.

Can anyone ever atone for such horror? If you do such things but afterward live a life of “goodness”, does it matter? And, why do the good, the honest, the brave often suffer, while the vile, the horrid, the ones who make the hell even more hellish prosper and never pay?

He told himself that, through his service of this cosmic goodness, he had discovered he was not one man but many, that he could do the most terrible things he might otherwise have thought were evil if he had not known that they were in the service of the ultimate goodness. For he loved poetry above all, and the Emperor was a poem of one word…

And what of the good man who finds his own worth in the chaos and horror that is war?

He could never admit to himself that it was death that had given his life meaning.

Dorrigo Evans, Darky Gardiner, Tenji Nakamura, even Amy Mulvaney are characters I will likely never forget. What a deserving winner for the Man Booker, what a remarkable piece of literature, what an astounding capacity to glimpse into the souls of people Richard Flanagan displays. This is one of those rare books that make me wish Goodreads would give us one more button to push, because this book is not a five-star read, it is a ten.

( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Strange book. Has some intense moments of action and insight but: jumps around in chronology for no good reason, spends too much time on non-essential elements (the hero's post-war existence as a successful doctor with a philandering problem) and even too much time on the key scene of the story (the Japanese beating of a POW, which is goes on forever and comes back again to haunt the reader). Bold attempt to enter the mind of the Japanese as well as the Australians: even those who do evident evil think they are doing good. ( )
  vguy | Mar 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
This novel would have been far more powerful and coherent if Amy were excised from the story. It is the story of Dorrigo, as one man among many P.O.W.’s in the Asian jungle, that is the beating heart of this book: an excruciating, terrifying, life-altering story that is an indelible fictional testament to the prisoners there. Taken by themselves, these chapters create a slim, compelling story: Odysseus’s perseverance through a bloody war and his return home at last to Penelope (in this case, Ella) and his efforts, like his fellow soldiers’, to see if he can put the horrors and suffering of war in the rearview mirror, and somehow construct a fulfilling Act II to a broken life.

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Flanaganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blommesteijn, AnkieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mother, they write poems.

    Paul Celan
A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

For prisoner san byaku ju go (335)
First words
Why at the beginning of things is there always light?
But sometimes things are said and they're not just words. They are everything that one person thinks of another in a sentence. Just one sentence. . . . . .There are words and words and none mean anything. And then one sentence means everything.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
AUGUST, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW cam on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.

This savagely beautiful novel is a story about 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.,
Haiku summary
Horror in the jungle;
Love kept him strong -
An illusion.

No descriptions found.

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"A novel of love and war that traces the life of one man--an Australian surgeon--from a prisoner-of-war camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway during World War II, up to the present"--

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