The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the virtuosic sixth novel from Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish, The Sound of One Hand Clapping), chronicles the life of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian Army colonel and surgeon who is captured by the Japanese during World War II and forced to work on the Burma-Thailand "Death Railway." On the Line--as the prisoners of war call the railway's ever-progressing construction site--Dorrigo and his comrades contend with interminable monsoon rains, starvation, disease and brutal, almost perfunctory beatings at the hands of the Japanese guards.

The narrative skips forward and backward through time and among different points of view, sometimes focused on Dorrigo's childhood in rural Tasmania; his prewar love affair with his uncle's wife, Amy Mulvaney; or his future as a conflicted, doubt-filled war hero in contemporary Australia. The bulk of the chapters follow the course of a single day on the Line while Dorrigo watches the murder of a POW unfold. Through it all, Dorrigo's love for Amy serves as the novel's tragic through line, but Flanagan also explores the postwar lives of the colonel's fellow prisoners and their captors, deftly avoiding the pitfall of turning those Imperial Japanese Army officers into caricatures or monsters.

Flanagan's book is as harrowing and brutal as it is beautiful and moving. He's filled the pages with poetry: Basho and Issa are quoted as frequently as Tennyson and Kipling, and his own prose is at turns lyrical and stark. This deeply affecting, elegiac novel will stay with readers long after it's over. --Alex Mutter, Shelf Awareness associate editor

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