A Tumultuous Journey Along This 'Narrow Road' Richard Flanagan's new novel follows a Tasmanian-born doctor, captured by the Japanese during WWII, who ends up caring for prisoners of war working on the notorious "Death Railway."

Review

Book Reviews

A Tumultuous Journey Along This 'Narrow Road'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/340672327/345296188" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Earlier this summer, the Man Booker Prize announced its long list. Among the 13 writers named, one of them was the Australian Richard Flanagan. His novel is called "The Narrow Road To The Deep North." And our reviewer Alan Cheuse has the highest praise for it.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Flanagan's extraordinary new novel, a sort of Australian war and peace, gives us the story of a heroic and philandering Tasmanian-born doctor named Dorrigo Evans, who lives as though there are two worlds. This world, as the novelist describes it, and a hidden world that it took the momentary shafts of late afternoon light to reveal as the real world - of flying particles wildly spinning, shimmering, randomly bouncing into each other and heading off into entirely new directions.

Flanagan does an amazing job of revealing to us life at the seam between both worlds. In peacetime, Evans falls into an intense and tormented adulterous relationship with Amy, the young wife of his uncle - a woman whose eyes burned we hear, like the blue in a gas flame.

Then the Pacific War intervenes and Evans is called up as an army doctor and soon finds physician to a thousand or more Australian prisoners of war - men enslaved by the Japanese army to build a railroad across Thailand. Most of the novel Flanagan gives over to Evans' desperate struggle to keep alive of these men beset with almost every possible tropical disease, even as they face starvation, and brutal beatings, and sometimes torture. Or if you can believe it, even worse.

Here is an eccentric masterwork of a novel of deep insight, afflicted love and cosmic passion. A book filled with painful, even horrendous suffering before which I stand in awe. I don't think of ever said this before, but here's a writer who's a serious contender for the Nobel Prize.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That writers Richard Flanagan. His new novel is "The Narrow Road To The Deep North." Alan Cheuse had our review.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.