The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, Australia, 2013

This would have to be one of the best (if not the best) book I have read this year. The writing is, as with all Flanagan’s books, superb. Although the main part of the book deals with Australian prisoners of war and the building of the Burmese railway (and is, consequently, extremely confronting), it does not merely dwell on the atrocities of war, but gives a balanced two-sided view as to why such things may have happened. It makes no excuses, but it does
give explanations.

The book follows the life of Dorrigo Evans from his beginning in Tasmania, through a career in medicine punctuated by several years of military service, to his end on the mainland of Australia. Woven into his life is his love for Amy (his uncle’s young wife), and his less-than-satisfactory marriage with Ella.

This is a book that stays with you long after the last paragraph has been read and the book closed. There are definitely many images that refuse to go away, but there are also thoughts and perspectives that smuggle their way into your subconscious and, hopefully, shed some light on all the bigger questions: why are we here? What is life? What is death? What is love?

Days and months are travellers of eternity. So too the years that pass by. (From Basho’s travel journal The Narrow Road to the Deep North).

The edition I read (by Vintage) has 467 pages, so it is definitely not a one-evening read (and, even if it were possible, I do not think that most people would be able to absorb so much in such a short space of time). Apart from the fact that it was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2014, it is definitely a book I would recommend.

The photo of Flanagan receiving the Man Booker Award is from the ABC.