The dust cover of Richard Flanagan’s new novel The NARROW ROAD to the  DEEP NORTH, describes the book as a ” Savagely beautiful novel.”  I think not, but who am I to disagree with the rave reviews from the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times ( London) and a long list of other prestigious  publications.

imgresThe novel wraps itself around the story of prisoners in a World War II Japanese POW Camp being brutalized in forced slave labor  to construct  the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railway.  Flanagan’s protagonist is an Australian physician , whose assignment is to make every effort to keep the prisoners alive only so that they can be returned to depravity cutting an impossible railroad bed through the Burmese jungle.

Readers who absorbed the brutality in the Japanese POW camps in the non-fiction books Unbroken  by Laura Hillenbrand or Fly Boys by James Bradley  I think will have had quite enough, without slogging through the excessive deprivation and savagery in Flanagan’s novel.  Surely, there is a parallel story here, an adulterous love affair between the protagonist and his uncle’s wife  frustrated by his supposed devotion to his wife despite a lifetime of promiscuity.  For me, this narrative did not connect or remotely rise above the books excessively redundant brutality.

Sorry, but if there is redeeming virtue in The NARROW ROAD to the DEEP NORTH, I seem to have missed the sign posts.

Richard Flanagan also wrote five additionaL highly acclaimed novels, Death of  River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting.  I have not read any of his aforementioned books.




Richard Russo’s 2007 novel Bridge of Sighs, published six years after his Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls, captures the rhythms of small town life in Russo’s own inimitable style. In Bridge of Sighs Russo transports the reader to upstate New York where he delivers many of life’s complexities and social issues through a wide cast of characters whose lives are interconnected through intricate webs of relationships.


The menu of contemporary issues is complete: Racism, mental illness, bullying, teenage sex, tyrannical fathers, loyalty without love, love without loyalty, divorce, reconciliation, industrial pollution, Cancer, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.

From this churning pot of small town contradictions emerges in Venice , a world renown artist, made famous by placing on canvas ¬†mental images of the provincial place of his boyhood. A local legend says that lovers will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss on a gondolagat sunset under Venice’s Bridge of Sighs. Will unrequited love appear? ¬†Without question a good read from a great American novelist.

Also by Richard Russo: Mohawk, The Risk Pool, Nobody’s Fool, Straight Man, The Whore’s Child