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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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More surprises and nuances toward the end of Narrow Road to the Deep North

Surprises and nuances continue as I near the end of Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North; it seems what he's doing in the chapters that follow the central events of the novel - the POW slave-labor camp, the brutal treatment of the Australian prisoners by the sadistic and obsessed Japanese soldiers (and their Korean lackeys) - is show the aftermath of the lives of the effected people, and these lives, these fates, are far more nuanced than we would expect or that most novelists could conceive of and delineate. First, the Japanese captors, particularly Nakamura (sp) try to become or try to think of themselves as "good" and moral, just carrying out their sacred commitment to Japan and to the Emperor; of course he is/they are completely deluded and lucky they didn't hang for their crimes (which they would have had they not been officers no doubt), but Flanagan almost - but not quite - makes us feel sorry for them. Then there's the Korean thug Goanna, who turns out to be completely stupid right up till he drops in the gallows, with his bizarre and pathetic obsession with the 50 yen he thinks he's owed as soldier's pay; again, Flanagan almost makes us pity him, as we learn of the abuse he suffered as a child, and later in the Army, but we can't quite do so because he's so thick and ill-natured. Then there's the protagonist, Dorrigo, whom Flanagan clearly shows as a deeply flawed man rather than as a hero - and man who recognizes his flaws and is unwilling or incapable of being "a good man" - contrast with the self-deluded Nakamura - at least Dorrigo knows he's a liar and a cheat - who marries a woman he does not love and then betrays her repeatedly. Finally, there are the other Aussie soldiers - the survivors who get together after the war to drink their pain and sorrows into oblivion. I have a little trouble keeping them straight, but that's probably not necessary to understand the story and feel their emotions; the chapter in which they "visit" the seafood restaurant brought me to the point of tears, very beautiful, and reminded me of the incredible Raymond Carver story about the birthday cake for the dead boy.

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