Friday, 24 October 2014



About six weeks ago I finished reading Richard Flanagan’s book, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” which subsequently won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in the UK.

   Over the years I’ve read many books about WW2 and the dreadful treatment of Japanese prisoners of war, the death marches, the death camps, the starvation, the beatings and killing and so on.

   So, I was well-prepared for Flanagan’s tale of deprivation and horror about the building of the Burma Railway in the early 1940s, where the Japanese used about 300,000 slave labourers, including 12,000 Australian prisoners of war.

   Or so I thought.

   Flanagan’s book of fiction is the story about Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon, who endured the privations of this horrible experience and was an inspiration to the men who relied on his dedication, leadership and self-sacrifice to survive the living hell of the Burma Railway.

   The author delves into the many layers of his main character, who, like all of us, is deeply flawed, although kept hidden from most of those who knew him and who, in later life, was revered as a national icon.

   Richard Flanagan’s father had been a prisoner on the Burma Railway and survived. He was the inspiration for Flanagan to write about this infamous episode of WW2. A book he knew he had to write, even though it took him 12 years to complete the task.

   Flanagan’s graphic descriptions of what those prisoners were forced to endure, for me, was torturous and shocking reading. His graphic descriptions left nothing to the imagination leaving me chilled and disturbed.

   No, it isn’t a book about holding grievances against the Japanese as much as a book about man’s inhumanity to man, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

   Despite Richard Flanagan's wonderful writing, and the unexpected twists and turns, the book's nihilistic theme and ending left me flat and, even despairing. I was disappointed Dorrigo Evans did not find any meaning from his life or seem to learn anything from the wrong choices and decisions that brought him so much pain.

   Beautifully composed and written, but a nihilistic anthem lacking hope and optimism.

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