From Goodreads: A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.
My Review: 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 by Mary Rakow;
* 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:
- How can humans treat fellow humans how the Japanese treated these POWs?
- How can the Japanese (not sure if this is the case today) value life with such contempt and live with themselves?
- Am I putting an Australian understanding of the value of life onto a culture that doesn’t share this belief?
- How would I behave in the same situation?
- 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. 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.
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.