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.
The 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.
There is little wonder why Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand has been atop the New York Times Best Seller List since its publication last year.
The epic story of the survival, resilience and redemption of Lieutenant Louis Zamperini is a triumphant accomplishment . It is a literary and historical work by Hillenbrand worthy of the highest accolades. Unbroken equals and in its research even surpasses the excellence of Hillenbrand’s wonderful Seabiscuit . Warning, it is a disturbing read.
Hillenbrand traces the life of Louis Zamperini from delinquent teen to local track hero and Olympian to a World War Two B-24 bombardier shot down with his crew over the Pacific. Forty seven days in a raft first with three fellow crew members, then only two. The horror of that ordeal is trumped by his capture and incarceration for two and a half years as a Japanese POW under the most sadistic circumstances imaginable. Zamperini’s story of human survival defies belief. Hillenbrand’s research and writing misses no detail, including the story of Louie’s Post Traumatic Syndrome long before anyone had diagnosed the tragedy of post combat emotional illness.
Unbroken’s historical perspective on the war in the Pacific ranks Hillenbrand’s writing in a league with Stephen Ambrose (D-Day) and ( Citizen Soldiers), James Bradley ( Flyboys), Jeff Shaara ( The Final Storm), and Doug Stanton ( In Harms Way-The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis).
It is not easy to digest Hillenbrand’s descriptions of the horror’s faced by Louie Zamperini and thousands of other POW’s but the outcome is triumphant for the author, the reader and Louie Zamperini!
There are many months ahead for this great book on top of best seller lists, and it is most deserving of a place in your personal library.
Thank you Laura Hillendrand.