Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This magnificent book is a novel about the human spirit, how it lives and how it dies.   It’s about World War II, and the mad attempt to build a railroad through Thailand in the service of the Japanese emperor. The British said such a railroad could never be built, but the Japanese said, “We will do it because we are endowed with the Japanese spirit.” And they did it, with the help of methamphetamine and 3000 laborers and Australian prisoners of war, many of whom died from starvation, disease or brutality. Years after returning to Australia, the protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, realizes that “to have been part of a Pharonic slave system that had at its apex a divine sun king led him to understand unreality as the greatest force in life.” Helping to build the Death Railroad wasn’t the only unreality in Dorrigo’s life. He sensed that the death of his spirit began in Thailand, where he felt compelled to play the role of the heroic camp doctor. After the war, he continued to live up to the expectations of others. He married a society woman he was never sure he loved. He fathered three children, but they remained strangers to him while he poured his energy into his career and the distracting pursuit of pleasure. He lost himself somewhere along the way.  The novel takes its title from a travelogue written in haiku by a 17th-century Japanese Buddhist named Basho, who took a long journey through Japan’s deep north to experience the beauty of this remote area and to sound the depths of his own spirit.

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