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Reviews of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan X
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Alta Ifland
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About this Book

Book Summary

Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to contemporary Australia, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence.

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.

Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Chapter 1

Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans' earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother. A wooden church hall. Blinding light and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach. Over and over.

Bless you, his mother says as she holds him and lets him go. Bless you, boy.

That must have been 1915 or 1916. He would have been one or two. Shadows came later in the form of a forearm rising up, its black outline leaping in the greasy light of a kerosene lantern. Jackie Maguire was sitting in the Evanses' small dark kitchen, crying. No one cried then, except babies. Jackie Maguire was an old man, maybe forty, perhaps older, and he was trying to brush the tears away from his pockmarked face with the back of his hand. Or was it with his fingers?

Only his crying was fixed in Dorrigo ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North? Why might Flanagan have chosen to name his book after Basho's well-known travelogue by the same name?

  2. Consider the structure of the novel. How does the division and organization of the passages help to underscore the themes of time and memory that are revisited throughout the book? Likewise, consider how the structure allows the author to present a variety of points of view. What common themes does this help to uncover and what does it reveal about the common experiences of the characters? Does this form allow us to make any generalizations about the common human experience? Alternatively, how does the structure of the novel help to inform us about...
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    Booker Prize
    2014

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Structure aside, the story itself may be overwhelming for certain readers among whom I count myself: a look at the horrendous hardship experienced by WWII prisoners of war during the construction of the so-called "Death Railway" (or "the Line") between Thailand and Burma. Flanagan refuses to idealize heroism, exploring, instead, the idea that society defines normal people forced by circumstances to act in a certain way as "heroes." He deliberately creates a flawed protagonist in The Narrow Road...continued

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(Reviewed by Alta Ifland).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
I suspect that on rereading, this magnificent novel will seem even more intricate, more carefully and beautifully constructed.

The Washington Post
Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this . . . This is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer.

The Guardian (UK)
To say Flanagan creates a rich tapestry is to overly praise tapestries. One would notice, if not swept along by the tale, that the allocation of time to characters, the certainty of the narration, the confidence to pause and then lunge on, to play with time, are all bravura accomplishments. We don't notice, though. Flanagan is too good to let us.

The Times (UK)
An unforgettable story of men at war . . . Flanagan’s prose is richly innovative and captures perfectly the Australian demotic of tough blokes, with their love of nicknames and excellent swearing. He evokes Evans’s affair with Amy, and his subsequent soulless wanderings, with an intensity and beauty that is as poetic as the classical Japanese literature that peppers this novel

Sydney Morning Herald
In an already sparkling career (few novels get as close to perfection as Wanting), this might be his biggest, best, most moving work yet.

Library Journal
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Australian author Flanagan has anticipated writing this novel much of his life, working on it for twelve years and completing it on the day his father died...Reviews from Australia and the UK have been, not surprisingly, ecstatic.

Publishers Weekly
Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching in its treatment of death, this is a powerful novel.

Reader Reviews

Gilma Chute

The best book in the last 10 years
This book is the one you will read several times in your life. The writer style is deep. It is a book you do not forget.
Cloggie Downunder

Profoundly moving.
“There was around him an exhausted emptiness, an impenetrable void cloaked this most famously collegial man, as if he already lived in another place – forever unravelling and refurling a limitless dream or an unceasing nightmare, it was hard to know ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Death Railway

POWs workingRichard Flanagan's novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North is based on a terrible chapter from WWII: the construction, under Japanese supervision, of a railway between Thailand and Burma by Allied prisoners of war and local workers. The slave labor conditions and the tortures experienced by the forced laborers claimed the lives of 13,000 Allied prisoners and 90,000 Asians.

The prisoners were forced to march through the jungle along the railway (the "Line"), which followed the course of the river Kwai whenever possible, and labor camps were set up at various points. At the so-called Hellfire Pass, the railway had to cut through the mountains, and the laborers were forced to do the work with minimal construction equipment. As a consequence...

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