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Sunday, February 22, 2015

A chronogical plot summary of Narrow Road to the Deep North

A chronological summary of Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North in anticipation of book group tonight, weather permitting:

Early life of Dorrigo, first chapter, with his mother, who is consoling a family friend (?) whose wife has abandoned him; D. confused about the meaning of this.

D. goes off on an errand (to his older brother's house?) where he sees older brother kissing a woman, I believe this is the wife who's in process of leaving husband. She's an aborigine; D. again is puzzled by this behavior.

D. goes to boarding school, shows some excellent skill and daring in a form of soccer/football.

D wins scholarship, goes to medical school in Australia  (he's Tasmanian-born); though this part of the story is not dramatized, we learn that he met a woman Ella, daughter of a prominent Australian, and falls in love and they become engaged, though D. is very ambivalent about her and about marriage.

He becomes a military officer, as WWII about to begin; posted (to Tasmania?) waiting for assignment. In a bookshop, a girl, Amy, flirts with him and he's attracted to her. Later, he visits his uncle who runs a shopworn resort hotel on the coast and learns that Amy his his uncle's much-younger wife.

Begins relationship with Amy and increasing estrangement from Ella, back in Australia. Their relationship very passionate, though neither sees a way to make it last.

He is shipped out w/out much warning; brief phone call (?) with Amy, they don't get to see each other.

Amy morose; goes off to the kitchen of the hotel. Husband has told her he's completely aware of the affair. Gas explosion demolishes the hotel.

Dorrigo serves in Syria and near East, then back to Asia (we don't seem much about these years), and his division of Tasmanian soldiers captured by the Japanese and, as POWs, put at forced labor building a railroad from Siam to Burma - these years are the heart of the novel.

Many scenes of POW abuse and suffering from disease and starvation. We meet many prisoners. Dorrigo serves nobly as commanding officer. Toward end of war he is ordered to select 100 men for march into the jungle up the line; he knows he's sending these men to their deaths. During captivity, D receives letter from Ella saying that Amy has died in the explosion.

Soldiers gather after war, with varying degrees of trauma, survivor guilt.

D. returns to Australia. Marries Ella reluctantly; almost immediately begins having affairs.

Japanese soldiers in Occupied Japan wanted as war criminals. One (Goanna) is hanged; another (Nakamura) takes on a fake ID and survives, lives long life and believes he dies as a good man.

D. saves wife and children from a tremendous wildfire in Tasmanian, where they're on vacation.

D. visits older brother on deathbed; learns he has a nephew (by the aborigine woman) - was the nephew a fellow POW? Immediately after, crossing bridge in Sydney, D. sees Amy w/ two young children.

Amy survived (was not present at explosion, which killed her husband); married badly, kids are her nieces. She is dying of CA. 

Later in life, D. becomes a celebrity because of documentary about the POWs. He continues to have affairs and believes he is undeserving of the accolades. Married lovelessly to Ella still.

We see him in bed with a woman (in very early chapter) on what amounts to be the last full night of his life; after he leaves her, he's in a fatal car accident (though he survives for few days as his mind races).


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