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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

4.3 out of 5 stars 1,652 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 15 hours and 4 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
  • Audible.com Release Date: November 1, 2013
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GD2FNHE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The very best books don't just entertain, uplift or educate us. They enfold us in their world and make us step outside of ourselves and become transformed. And sometimes, if we're really lucky, they ennoble and affirm us.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is such a book. Once I got past the first 60 or 70 pages, there was no turning back. I turned the last page marveling at Mr. Flanagan's skill and agreeing with historian Barbara Tuchman that, "Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."

The Narrow Road is based on an actual event: the building of the Thai-Burma death railway in 1943 by POWs commanded to the Japanese. The title comes from famed haiku poet Matsuo Basho's most famous work and sets up a truism of the human condition: even those who can admire the concise and exquisite portrayal of life can become the agents of death.

The key character, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, a larger-than-life POW, is also a study in contradictions: as "Big Fella", he protects those under his command from starvation, heinous deceases and senseless dehumanizing while struggling with his own demons. The passages are haunting and heartbreaking: the skeletal bodies covered in their own excretement, the bulging ulcers, the breaking of mind and spirit.

Yet Mr. Flanagan does not depict these scenes to shock the reader. Rather, he reveals how all is ephemeral, mythologized, or forgotten: "Nothing endures. Don't you see? That's what Kipling meant. Not empires, not memories. We remember nothing. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe most of a life, if we live. Maybe. But then we will die, and who will ever understand any of this?
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Goodness eludes the characters...

The protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, is a womanizer, an unloving husband, an unsatisfactory father, a somewhat reckless surgeon, and a war hero who considers himself a man without virtue.

The Japanese soldiers who tormented him and his men in a POW jungle camp in Siam consider themselves good men, heroically devoted to the Emperor and faithful to their idea of duty. Years later they actually do develop compassion (too late to benefit the POWs).

These shifting sands of morality are a recurrent theme in the book. It's clear that Dorrigo protected his men as best he could and saved many lives. His personal failings pale beside this. And the insane cruelty of the Japanese soldiers, although inexcusable, is clearly the result of their military training and indoctrination. So everyone can be seen as a victim of war and circumstances.

Dorrigo's experiences in the jungle camp are the most fascinating pages of the book. The vivid accounts of hunger, beatings, dysentery, lice – and surgery with improvised implements and homemade anesthetic are unforgettable. Compared to camp life, I found the account of Dorrigo's guilty love affair with his uncle's young wife to be a bit tedious. Perhaps I’m losing my romanticism.

There is a certain incoherence to the narrative; on the other hand there are some very moving scenes. So my enjoyment of this book was on and off. Certainly it’s a very ambitious novel, a valiant effort to decipher an indecipherable world.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This novel shares its title with a poetic travelogue by the 17th century haiku poet Matsuo Basho which was published in 1694. In many respects, the journey undertaken by Matsuo Basho is very different from that undertaken by Dorrigo Evans in this novel. Matsuo Basho is largely focussed on the beauty of the world around him, whereas Dorrigo Evans’s odyssey is of evolving self, and place.

‘A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else.’

Dorrigo Evans is the central character in Richard Flanagan’s novel. His story moves in place and time, between different aspects of his lives in a way that made me think about the kind of man Dorrigo Evans was, and about how complex humans can be. The core of the story, and of Evans’s heroism, is about his experiences as a doctor in a prisoner of war camp on the infamous Thai-Burma railway during World War II. Evans loves literature, and especially Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ which he reads and rereads. Evans’s memories are triggered by writing a foreword for a collection of sketches done by one of the men (Guy ‘Rabbit’ Hendricks) who did not survive the camp. We read Dorrigo Evans’s memories of the camp together with his childhood in Tasmania, his life in Melbourne, and his posting to Adelaide where he has an affair with his Uncle Keith’s much younger wife, Amy. Although Evans becomes engaged to the conventional Ella before being posted overseas, it is his affair with Amy that sustains him through his camp experiences. We are not spared from graphic descriptions of the physical consequences of life in the camps: malnutrition, minimal hygiene and physical brutality are all covered. But in all the squalor and hardship, pain and suffering, there are men who try to support each other.
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