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The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Cover of The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
A novel
Borrow Borrow
Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” —The Washington Post

From the author of the acclaimed Gould’s Book of Fish, a magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present.
 
August, 1943: Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.
 
A savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” —The Washington Post

From the author of the acclaimed Gould’s Book of Fish, a magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present.
 
August, 1943: Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.
 
A savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1 chapter 1

    Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans’ earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother. A wooden church hall. Blinding light and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach. Over and over.

    Bless you, his mother says as she holds him and lets him go. Bless you, boy.

    That must have been 1915 or 1916. He would have been one or two. Shadows came later in the form of a forearm rising up, its black outline leaping in the greasy light of a kerosene lantern. Jackie Maguire was sitting in the Evanses’ small dark kitchen, crying. No one cried then, except babies. Jackie Maguire was an old man, maybe forty, perhaps older, and he was trying to brush the tears away from his pockmarked face with the back of his hand. Or was it with his fingers?

    Only his crying was fixed in Dorrigo Evans’ memory. It was a sound like something breaking. Its slowing rhythm reminded him of a rabbit’s hind legs thumping the ground as it is strangled by a snare, the only sound he had ever heard that was similar. He was nine, had come inside to have his mother look at a blood blister on his thumb, and had little else to compare it to. He had seen a grown man cry only once before, a scene of astonishment when his brother Tom returned from the Great War in France and got off the train. He had swung his kitbag onto the hot dust of the siding and abruptly burst into tears.

    Watching his brother, Dorrigo Evans had wondered what it was that would make a grown man cry. Later, crying became simply affirmation of feeling, and feeling the only compass in life. Feeling became fashionable and emotion became a theatre in which people were players who no longer knew who they were off the stage. Dorrigo Evans would live long enough to see all these changes. And he would remember a time when people were ashamed of crying. When they feared the weakness it bespoke. The trouble to which it led. He would live to see people praised for things that were not worthy of praise, simply because truth was seen to be bad for their feelings.

    That night Tom came home they burnt the Kaiser on a bonfire. Tom said nothing of the war, of the Germans, of the gas and the tanks and the trenches they had heard about. He said nothing at all. One man’s feeling is not always equal to all life is. Sometimes it’s not equal to anything much at all. He just stared into the flames.

    2

    A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else. In his old age Dorrigo Evans never knew if he had read this or had himself made it up. Made up, mixed up, and broken down. Relentlessly broken down. Rock to gravel to dust to mud to rock and so the world goes, as his mother used to say when he demanded reasons or explanation as to how the world got to be this way or that. The world is, she would say. It just is, boy. He had been trying to wrest the rock free from an outcrop to build a fort for a game he was playing when another, larger rock dropped onto his thumb, causing a large and throbbing blood blister beneath the nail.

    His mother swung Dorrigo up onto the kitchen table where the lamp light fell strongest and, avoiding Jackie Maguire’s strange gaze, lifted her son’s thumb into the light. Between his sobs Jackie Maguire said a few things. His wife had the week previously taken the train with their youngest child to Launceston, and not returned.

    Dorrigo’s mother picked up her carving knife. Along the blade’s edge ran a cream...
About the Author-
  • Richard Flanagan's five previous novels—Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, and Wanting—have received numerous honors and are published in forty-two countries. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He lives in Tasmania.

    www.richardflanagan.com

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 23, 2014
    From bestselling Australian writer Flanagan (Gould’s Book of Fish) comes a supple meditation on memory, trauma, and empathy that is also a sublime war novel. Initially, it is related through the reminiscences of Dorrigo Evans, a 77-year-old surgeon raised in Tasmania whose life has been filtered through two catastrophic events: the illicit love affair he embarked on with Amy Mulvaney, his uncle’s wife, as a young recruit in the Australian corps and his WWII capture by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. Most of the novel recounts Dorrigo’s experience as a POW in the Burmese jungle on the “speedo,” horrific work sessions on the “Death Railway” that leave most of his friends dead from dysentery, starvation, or violence. While Amy, with the rest of the world, believes him dead, Dorrigo’s only respite comes from the friends he tries to keep healthy and sane, fellow sufferers such as Darky Gardiner, Lizard Brancussi, and Rooster MacNiece. Yet it is Dorrigo’s Japanese adversary, Major Nakamura, Flanagan’s most conflicted and fully realized character, whose view of the war—and struggles with the Emperor’s will and his own postwar fate—comes to overshadow Dorrigo’s story, especially in the novel’s bracing second half. Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching in its treatment of death, this is a powerful novel. 50,000-copy first printing.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2014
    A literary war novel with asplit personality, about a protagonist who loathes his dual character.Ambition leads to excess in thesixth novel by Flanagan (Wanting, 2009, etc.), a prizewinning writer much renowned in his nativeAustralia. The scenes of Australian POWs held by the Japanese have power anddepth, as do the postwar transformations of soldiers on both sides. But thenovel's deep flaw is a pivotal plot development that aims at the literaryheights of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary but sounds too oftenlike a swoon-worthy bodice ripper. "His pounding head, the pain in everymovement and act and thought, seemed to have as its cause and remedy her, andonly her and only her and only her," rhapsodizes Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon whowill be hailed as a national hero for his leadership in World War II, though hefeels deeply unworthy. His obsession is Amy, a woman he met seemingly bychance, who has made the rest of his existence-including his fiancee-seem draband lifeless. She returns his ardor and ups the ante: "God, she thought, howshe wanted him, and how unseemly and unspeakable were the ways in which shewanted him." Alas, it is not to be, for she is married to his uncle, and he hasa war that will take him away, and each will think the other is dead. And thosestretches are where the novel really comes alive, as they depict the brutalityinflicted by the Japanese on the POWs who must build the Thai-Burma railway(which gives the novel its title) and ultimately illuminate their differentvalues and their shared humanity.When the leads are offstage, the novel approaches greatness in its inquiry into what it means to be a good person. But there's too much "her body was a poem beyondmemorising" for the novel to fulfill its considerable ambition.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2014
    Acclaimed Australian author Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish, 2002) here gives us surgeon Dorrigo Evans, from his Tasmanian childhood to old age, along the way having been a POW (as Flanagan's father was) on the gruesomely brutal building of the Siam-Burma railroad and having later achieved a fame he feels is undeserved. Flanagan handles the horrifyingly grim details of the wartime conditions with lapidary precision and is equally good on the romance of the youthful indiscretion that haunts Evans. This accomplished tale of love and war could have broad appeal, but the protracted particulars of the prisoners' treatment may put off quite a few readers. Evans performs at one point a major medical procedure under such primitive and inhuman conditions that it will make even tough-minded readers cringe in disgust. Though much of this fine novel (whose title is taken from the Japanese poet Basho) is extraordinarily beautiful, intelligent, and sharply insightful (and even balancedthe Japanese captors are portrayed, not sympathetically, but with dimension), it is very strong and powerful medicine indeed.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2014

    Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Australian author Flanagan has anticipated writing this novel much of his life, working on it for 12 years and completing it on the day his father died. His father had been a survivor of a Japanese POW camp and the brutal building of the Thai-Burma death railway, famously depicted in The Bridge on the River Kwai, as is the protagonist here. In the POW camp, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans struggles to protect his men, even as he recalls an illicit affair from the past. A letter from home changes everything, and the story is brought up to the present day. Reviews from Australia and the UK have been, not surprisingly, ecstatic.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2014

    One of Australia's most celebrated authors, Flanagan has garnered multiple awards for his fiction (Wanting), nonfiction (And What Do You Do, Mr. Gable?), and directing (The Sound of One Hand Clapping). He has an uncanny ability to write literary prose with journalistic exactness set against cinematic landscapes. Taking its name from a collection of haiku poems by Matsuo Basho-, this novel is set at the end of World War II in a Japanese POW camp. Australian prisoners, led by physician Dorrigo Evans, are assigned the grueling task of building the Thai-Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway and famously depicted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. (Flanagan's father had been a POW and worked on the railway.) Amid daily violence, disease, and death, both the prisoners and the guards search for a sense of normalcy as they remain duty-bound to hierarchy. As the war ends and soldiers return to civilian life, each struggles to find meaning outside the routines of imprisonment. Dorrigo, in particular, has trouble reconciling his status as hero with the unshakable trauma he's experienced. VERDICT Utilizing prose and poems, Flanagan articulates the silent experiences and fractured memories of war. Not so much for fans of historical fiction, this narrative will instead appeal to the deeply introspective reader. [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]--Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • A.C. Grayling, Chair of Judges, Man Booker Prize 2014 "Some years, very good books win the Man Booker Prize, but this year a masterpiece has won it."
  • Alan Cheuse, NPR "Richard Flanagan has written a sort of Australian War and Peace."
  • The Guardian "A symphony of tenderness and love, a moving and powerful story that captures the weight and breadth of a life . . . A masterpiece."
  • New York Times Book Review "I suspect that on rereading, this magnificent novel will seem even more intricate, more carefully and beautifully constructed."
  • Ron Charles, Washington Post "Captivating . . . This is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer . . . Nothing since Cormac McCarthy's The Road has shaken me like this."
  • Financial Times "Elegantly wrought, measured, and without an ounce of melodrama, Flanagan's novel is nothing short of a masterpiece."
  • Seattle Times "A moving and necessary work of devastating humanity and lasting significance."
  • The Observer "A novel of extraordinary power, deftly told and hugely affecting. A classic in the making."
  • The Australian "Nothing could have prepared us for this immense achievement . . . The Narrow Road to the Deep North is beyond comparison."
  • The Sunday Times (London) "A devastatingly beautiful novel."
  • The Economist "The book Richard Flanagan was born to write."
  • Michiko Kakutani, New York Times "It is the story of Dorrigo, as one man among many POWs in the Asian jungle, that is the beating heart of this book: an excruciating, terrifying, life-altering story that is an indelible fictional testament to the prisoners there."
  • Sydney Morning Herald "Exhilarating . . . Life affirming."
  • Publishers Weekly "A supple meditation on memory, trauma, and empathy that is also a sublime war novel . . . Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching."
  • Irish Times "Homeric . . . Flanagan's feel for language, history's persistent undercurrent, and subtle detail sets his fiction apart. There isn't a false note in this book."
  • Patrick McGrath, auth "The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a big, magnificent novel of passion and horror and tragic irony. Its scope, its themes and its people all seem to grow richer and deeper in significance with the progress of the story, as it moves to its extraordinary resolution. It's by far the best new novel I've read in ages."
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