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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Excellent start on the narrow road to the deep north

Very impressed w/ the first 70+ pages of Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North (yes, it's a terrific title, and, yes, he did not invent it), which makes a nice contrast w/ the George Konrad novel that I abandoned this week in utter confusion: Flanagan, too, tells a complicated story with several layers of time through which he moves freely, chapter by chapter, but it's relatively easy to follow his narrative thread as it's all built around a single, clearly established protagonist, Dorrigo Evans and around a central set of events that define his personality and social status. Dorrigo was born in Tasmania in I guess the 1920s, and the novel starts out w/ a few scenes of his early life - an absent father, a sense of sorrow and hardship all around him, a sense that he is poor and provincial; later he becomes a surgeon (we don't see much of his teen years and schooling) and joins the Army during WWII, a medial corpsman attached to Australian regiment, fighting in the Near East and, later, in SE Asia where they're imprisoned and forced by the Japanese to build a railroad line from Thailand north to Burma. The heart of the novel focuses on the horrible prison conditions and slave labor; D. was one of the few to survive, and was a valiant and unselfish leader of his troops (unlike many other officers, who took care of their own needs first, assuming the rights of social class). We also see scenes of D. at age 77, in London I think, and a celebrity of sorts because of a recent documentary about his war service - but he's uneasy with his celebrity status and realizes he is a flawed man in his personal life, heavy drinker and, more significant, serious womanizer who has been consistently unfaithful to his wife (marrying her was a 'step up' in social class, but she is apparently cold and, to him, unattractive). The writing throughout is clear and often beautiful, with a few striking turns of phrase that I marked.

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