Book Review – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This book won Tasmanian Richard Flanagan the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

There should not be any Australians of my generation, at least, who do not know about the horrors of the Thai-Burma death railway built by, among others, Australian POWs in World War 2. The author draws on his father’s experiences as one of the POWs to tell the harrowing story of the railway. But the book is centred around a doctor, Dorrigo Evans, his life before and after the war as well as the period when he was the senior Australian officer on the railway.

The depictions of life working on the railway leave little to the imagination which is not a bad thing but it is good that they are interspersed with Dorrigo’s life story before and after the war, which is far from average. It had me wondering how his wartime experiences affected his approach to people and life after the war. The author also attempts to explain the reasoning behind the actions of the Japanese and Korean guards.

It is not a short book [467 pages in paperback]. It is well written and well worth the read. Not the type of book I would read in a few intense sessions. Better to take it a bit at a time.

And I did not know that “the Narrow Road to the Deep North” is the title in English of a famous 17th century haibun (combination of prose and haiku) by Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan.

Brian Holliday