The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
At once a story of love and a story of war, this is one of the most haunting books I’ve read for a long time.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North follows the story of Dorrigo Evans. He is a famous and celebrated surgeon and a war hero but is baffled by his hero status, saying he’d simply had more success at living than at dying.
Dorrigo is loved by women, but he has loved only one – the young wife of his uncle, Amy, of whom he has a love affair with before being shipped out to be a surgeon in the war.
The bulk of the book focuses on Dorrigo’s experiences in the war, supervising the building of the Thai-Burma railway.
The railway, infamously named the ‘Narrow Road’, was built in the early 1940s to supply the Japanese forces in Burma. It was built by prisoners of war, and the novel focuses on the Australian prisoners.
A lot of the book is pretty devastating. The deaths are visceral and heavily descriptive, and the post war glimpses into the survivors don’t soothe either. Those too die off strangely and horribly,petering out without much fanfare.
This book isn’t looking to shield you, it exposes you to horror and unflinchingly forces you to look.
Dorrigo’s feelings for Amy run through the book like a ribbon, but they are not buoyant. They arejust another loss, another ripping away of the good parts of life, leaving only the bad behind.
This book won’t fail to stay with you once you’re done.
- Image attribution: Mike Stewart, Flickr