The Narrow Road to the Deep North is an ambitious historical fiction book that centers on Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon who is captured along with his men by the Japanese during World War II.
They are among those tasked with building the death line, a railway to link Thailand and Burma. The novel tells the story of an Australian doctor haunted by memories of a love affair with his uncle’s wife and of his subsequent experiences as a Far East prisoner of war during the construction of the Burma Railway. Decades later, he finds his growing celebrity at odds with his feelings of failure and guilt.
The major themes of the book include heroism, goodness, mateship, war, enmity, class, memory, self-delusion, passion, guilt, honour, and loyalty. A major theme of the novel concerns the Australian value of “mateship” — a sense of camaraderie and loyalty — or the absence of “mateship” on the Burma Death Railway.
At its heart, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the impossibility of love. Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, the novel is an examination of the consequences of war, regret, loneliness, adultery, and love.
What I Liked
The story and setting are haunting, beautiful, and well-told. I was personally interested in this book because my Grandpa fought in this area of the world in World War II. It was incredible to read about the sheer logistics and day to day living in this part of the world during wartime.
What I Did Not Like
Ok – you know how some movies are called “award-bait” because they are structured and shot in such a way to get awards rather than revenue? This book felt like “award-bait” – like it was written specifically to be The Book and to win the Booker, Pulitzer, etc.