Summary (as written on a well know online bookseller)
In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan displays the gifts that have made him one of the most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo Evans and his fellow prisoners to that of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
Summary if I had written it
Dorrigo Evans, a well-known Australian surgeon was a commanding officer in one fo the POW camps charged with building the Siam-Burma railway during World War II; Towards the end of his life, he remembers his youth, his time at the camp, those who died, those he saved, the love he lost, the men he couldn’t save. The story of a man who wasn’t supposed to be extraordinary but was made so by the exceptional circumstances in which he found himself.
I hadn’t read a good novel in a while and simply devoured this one in one day (granted, I had to stay indoor for the whole day). The style is a bit puzzling at first, jumping from one time to another, without the change of era being due to flashbacks. Life at the POW camp is described in all its horror and makes for bloodcurdling reading.
One of the great strength of the book in my view is also to show the Japanese point of view (although how completely accurate and true is that point of view only a Japanese in charge of a POW camp could say) where violence, cruelty and downright sadism are simply a way to ensure the Emperor’s will is done. The hypocrisy of the allies after war, when they pursued and judged some officers – those in charge of allied POW camps – bu not all – in particular those responsible for the atrocities in China – is also very well exposed.
All in all, I found the love story to be the weakest and most boring part of the book.
In short, it is a very good historical fiction, on an episode of World War II history that, if not quite forgotten (think Bridge upon the River Kwai ) is not talked about very often in Europe.