The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North.jpg

Richard Flanagan, 2014 Man Booker prize winner, has trumped Australian fiction with this mighty and lyrical evocation of war-time Australia and the hideously mournful treatment of prisoners of war on the Burma-Siam railway. 
Dorrigo Evans, a young doctor, finds himself adrift in Adelaide on his way to fight in Singapore. He falls for his uncle’s young wife and they enter a passionate but furtive relationship while his betrothed stays in Sydney. But Singapore falls, Dorrigo has been captured and put to work looking after the starving, beaten soldiers who are brutalised daily by their captors and their already brutalised Korean helpers both groups in turn brutalising the local population. 
But this is not just a story about the hapless soldiers. Flanagan has the courage to present the reader with deep insight into the Japanese mind, the unquestioning obeisance to the Emperor and empire, the pride that drives these captors to inhuman lengths to achieve the impossible orders from above. But he also recognises the Japanese aesthetic by quoting the haiku of the Japanese masters throughout.
Apart from his skills as a surgeon Dorrigo is lauded by the POWs as a man of honour who they know will look after them as best he can despite the woefully limited resources. He stands up to the Japanese pleading for clemency and consideration for the ill health of his men and their consequent inability to work. For this he is loved by the POWs and when he returns to Australia his reputation continues to grow until his death as an old man. But Dorrigo is a flawed hero, a womaniser, essentially unhappy and dissatisfied with his choices in life and Flanagan explores these dichotomies with sharp insight. 
In searing,  precise  and lyrical language Flanagan  evokes the sufferings of the prisoners, these ordinary Australians. In one tragic awful day on the railway we meet the larrikins, the brave, the frightened, the tortured and the heroic – the essence of humanity in all its forms. Flanagan forces us to be part of the horror and suffering of these human beings who seem barely human at all.
Although the latter part of the novel is not as resolved as the beginning promises, it still thralls and is supremely affecting using language which flows with rich imagination. Richard Flanagan has written an Australian classic which will be read by many generations to come.