There’s way too much of an emotional conflict in Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road To The Deep North, and it’ll be a real surprise if at the end this very conflict doesn’t leave you all shaken up. It’s not really hard to see why this book walked away with the Man Booker Prize 2014, for it tells one of the most simplest of real-life stories there is in the most extraordinary manner, and moves you into a sphere of contemplation. And there are many a times you’ll find yourself pausing in a sentence mid-way just to admire the magic or the impact it had upon you. So powerful.
The story slightly resembles The Railway Man, and I do emphasize on “slightly”, because both works are unique in their own spirit, though built along the same premise. I must admit I haven’t read the autobiography from which The Railway Man is adapted. Flanagan in his document offers one of the most distressing accounts on prisoners of war ever writ. The script concerns Australian POW who were compelled by the Japanese to construct a railroad through a Burmese jungle. Conditions of the POW worsened with time as the Japs fed them just a handful of rice and made them work over twelve hours a day, up to a point where the prisoners were reduced to walking skeletons. As if to further accentuate the horror, the book even weaves a love story among the distressing parts, and the contrast in thoughts and portrayals is bound to leave you in awe.
The narrative is sheer masterpiece, oscillating between and blending in beautifully the many chapters in past and present. The complex structure of the book makes it even more satisfying. The best part of the book is it never fails in the trap of good or bad, that it never takes sides. The Japs treated the POW this way, so they’re bad – concluded the author nowhere. In fact he’s dabbled in the shades of gray so wonderfully in his character study that no character has a simple interpretation; every individual in the book has a certain depth to be explored. The POW’s despair and motivation has been brought out so beautifully.
Words fail to honor this devastating beauty of a book, and it’s one of those rare gems that’ll fire the fight within you. Repeat reading recommended.