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Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This is not an easy book, but it is a very good one.  Amazingly, when it won the Booker Prize this fall I was reading it, which has never happened to me.  The Booker Short List comes out sometime in the late summer and I get the books on it that are published in the U.S., which has traditionally been a much shorter list than the Short List, but this year and last there was a chance that you could have read the winner before it was announced.  Last year I had read all but one of the short listed books and what do you know, that was the one that won.  Not so this year.  As with all Booker Prize winners the written word is luminous and often time the story is less engaging than it's telling but all is forgiven because the book is so intense and wonderful to read.

This book is the tale of a man's life told from before WWII, through his time in a concentration camp, and then what happens afterward.  I would say a good third of the book is set in the Japanese jungle prison camp with the task of building a railroad without machinery or food using prison labor.  It is grim.  Man's inhumanity to man is rampant and sanctimonious and hardly anyone gets out alive.  But another third or more of the book is about what happens after that kind of trauma.  It is an intimate look at the way PTSD affects people and how it ripples out across a person's life and into the next generation.  Beautifully done, and painful to read.

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