Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

I got really swept up in this book in a way that doesn’t happen very often (and even less frequently when I’m not on holiday).

The title, ‘The Narrow Road to the deep north’ refers to the Burma death railway the Australian POWs are sent to build during WW2, again this is something I had no prior knowledge of historically so it felt like a real eye opener as well as an excellent story.

Flanagan’s descriptions of the suffering of the POWs is so graphic it made me feel physically sick at times, but he writes with real humanity not just being graphic for the sake of it.

“They had smoked to keep the dead out of their nostrils, they had joked to keep the dead from preying on their minds, they had eaten to remind themselves they were alive”

The story of Dorrigo Evans from childhood through to his death chops back and forth from tiny events which seem unremarkable but later have a significant impact on the protagonist.

“Nothing had happened and yet he knew something had begun”.

The story also touches on the point of view of the Japanese and Korean guards, whose life in the war seems little better than that of the POWs, each character in the book lives and suffers in their own way at different points which feels very true to life and the reality of war both historically and today.

“When he was a guard, he lived like an animal, he behaved as an animal. And he understood as an animal, he thought as an animal. And he understood that such an animal was the only human thing he had ever been allowed to be”.

The books left me with a sense of futility, or perhaps the sense of frustration of letting life happen to you, rather than following what you really want.

“He had his life, she had hers: the merge was impossible to dream. And what we cannot dream we can never do”.

I would thoroughly recommend this book, some descriptions are not for the faint hearted, but they makes the survival of the POWs all the more heroic and seemingly impossible. I enjoyed Flanagan’s writing style and will definitely be looking up his other novels in future.

Format read on: Hardback – I’ve been missing real books, too many kindle reads recently!

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