Friday, December 7, 2018

Booker Book #49: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

How to find words dark enough to describe a book like this? Harrowing and blood-curdling feel like clichés. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the tragic -- and new to me -- story of the soldiers who slaved in forced labor camps for the Japanese during World War II.

Much like their Jewish counterparts in Europe, these thousands of men, mostly Australian, were fed the absolute minimum, denied basic sanitation or medical care, and worked to death in the cholera-infested jungles of what would become Thailand. The stories of the beatings and vivisections are heartbreaking; this is not a book for the faint of heart.

But it is an honest and sobering exploration of war and what it does. Some of the characters whitewash their memories; for others, the war becomes the only memory. One of the Japanese officers turns his life around. Some are punished for war crimes, some escape. The world moves on.

“…the world organises its affairs so that civilisation every day commits crimes for which any individual would be imprisoned for life…You are never free of the world; to share life is to share guilt.”

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