Perhaps I should disclose at the outset that over the years that I’ve been reading, I’ve developed this little inner button that goes on whenever I’m about to read an award-winner. It makes me predisposed to like a book because it wouldn’t have received accolades if it were no good, yes?
That’s what happened when I got myself a copy of the 2014 Man Booker prize winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. That little button blinked like mad, and with good reason – Flanagan (and all the other shortlisted titles) trumped my bet for the Booker, David Mitchell’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks. So I knew, at the back of my mind, that I would be in for a real treat. Should be.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North did not disappoint.
The book is both a war memorial and a love story, but I’m inclined to say that it’s more of the former. As Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, now a famed war veteran, writes the foreword for a book about the atrocities that transpired at what is now known as the Death Railway during the Second World War, he recalls his own painful experiences as the commanding officer of a battalion of Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who labored in “the Line” under the Japanese Imperial command. His memories narrate for us the struggles they endured in the Siam-Burmese jungle where the railroad was to be constructed, how his men succumbed to various diseases that ate at their bodies and minds, and how the Japanese officers accepted no excuses that would exempt dying men from labor, among many others.