“A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.”


The latest Brown Baggers selection was Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. The title of the novel comes from a famous work of haibun by Bashō. Concerning POWs working on the Burma-Siam Railway (also known as the Death Railway), this was a grim read for many book group members. As always, though, the discussion was engaging and thoughtful, enriching our collective reading experience. 

The horrors of war, especially the forced labor for prisoners of war, were vividly described in Flanagan’s novel. A few Brown Baggers couldn’t quite finish the book, citing the graphic scenes .It was very affecting to learn that the author’s father had been a Japanese POW and passed away the same day that Flanagan finished writing The Narrow Road to the Deep North. His father had worked on the railway as part of of Dunlop’s Thousand. Lieutenant Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop was an Australian surgeon who served as inspiration for Dorrigo Evans.

While discussing the author’s father, the group also learned that Flanagan had worked on this book for twelve years, working on other novels all the while. Attempting multiple styles, including haiku, Flanagan finally realized he needed to write the novel as a love story. This provided much to ponder and discuss. While there is a more straightforward romantic love story between Dorrigo and Amy, many group members felt that the love shared and demonstrated by the soldiers within the camp was of central importance.

To wrap up our meeting, we also discussed the importance and role of memory, especially in shared experiences and through traumatic events. While the book also delves into the experience of the POWs after the war, those sections did not always feel as immediate and benefited from a group discussion.  

More Information:

Find other books by Flanagan in the JMRL catalog.

Explore the official website of the Man Booker Prize.

An article from the Sydney Morning Herald by Flanagan describes the influence of his father’s life on the novel.

Learn more about the life of Weary Dunlop.

Looking for a readalike? Try one of these titles or ask for a recommendation through JMRL’s What Do I Read Next? service.

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
2014 film adaptation also available
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser
Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
The Bridge on the River Kwai (DVD)

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, May 19 at noon to discuss One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.


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