The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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I avoided this booker prize-winning tale of the building of the Siam-Burma railway during the Second World War when it first came out; it’s a story which has been covered before e.g. in the classic movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” but this novel is more wide ranging and perhaps a more realistic telling of the story.

The central character of the book, Alwyn “Dorrigo” Evans is a bright, recently qualified surgeon from rural Tasmania, the first of his family to make it through school to a university education. He’s made the right connections both personally and professionally and is destined for greatness. WW2 intervenes and Dorrigo enlists and is sent to Adelaide for training. A chance encounter in a bookshop there leads to the most important relationship of his life. The war then intervenes and after a relatively uneventful campaign in the Middle East, Evans is sent to Java where his battalion is captured by the Japanese. We then get a harrowing and explicit account of the physical decline of the Australian P.O.W.s as they are mercilessly driven building the railway for the Japanese Empire. We also get the story and future destiny of the Japanese and Korean prison guards.

I found this a well-written interesting book, the story of a life set in an eventful period of history with an interesting twist in the end.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.