Friday, May 1, 2015

Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

After its army captured Burma from the British during World War II, Japan identified a need for an overland route in order to safely supply its troops. For this purpose, the army’s High Command decided that a railroad line through Burma was necessary. It was to be built with limited plans, primitive tools, slave labor, impossible orders and unfailing devotion to the emperor. Many of the laborers were Australian prisoners-of-war who had surrendered at the fall of Singapore.  In Narrow Road to the Deep NorthRichard Flanagan tells the story of some of these Australians. Dorrigo Evans was a doctor who tried his best to protect his men from the worst cruelties of the Japanese deprivations. But the men who were forced to work on this railroad, surviving on starvation rations, without proper tools, without adequate clothing, shelter, rest and medicine, could not be protected. They died by the thousands. Every man was missed but one unnecessary death seemed to affect this tightly-knit group more than any other—that of Sergeant Darky Gardiner, a man of inner strength, a steady demeanor and common sense. After the war, Gardiner’s death haunted the survivors, both war hero Evans and the rank-and-file enlisted men as they struggled to put the horrors of the war behind them. In this Man Booker Prize winning book, Flanagan writes moving depictions of men suffering from hunger, exhaustion and disease. He creates characters the reader comes to deeply care about. Perhaps this is because the book is dedicated to Prisoner san byaku san ju go (335), his own father.