The life story of Dorrigo Evans, youngest child of a railwayman living on a smallholding in Tasmania who grows up to become a surgeon, the commanding officer of Australian Prisoners of War slaving for the Japanese on the Death Railway. It tells in graphic detail of the suffering of the starving men as they toil to build a railway in the jungle. It tells of his love, his marriage and his infidelities and the difficulty he and the other PoWs faced when they returned home. We find out what happened to the Japanese and Koreans who guarded them and treated them brutally. Some lives end quickly and some live for a long time but in the end we all live, we suffer, we love and we die.
And through it all men are helped to survive by art. Dorrigo learns poems by heart; he favours the classics: Homer and Catullus. The Japanese quote haikus. Early on, Dorrigo reads about a Japanese poet whose death poem was a simple circle. Is life a cycle or is it a line like the railway: the narrow road to the deep north.
This is a remarkable book. I toiled at first. It jumps around, flashing forward and backwards, sometimes swapping to the perspective of different characters. Right from the start there is a hint of a master at work in the fresh descriptions: page 4 has "verandah-browed wooden cottages". And the mixture of Dorrigo's beautiful, if adulterous, love affair and the horrors of the jungle makes one read on. But the book rreally took me towards the end, when it detailed the inabilities of so many of the survivors to find peace when they got home. Then it ends in great drama, with a most unexpected twist and a tremendous bush fire.
By the end I knew that I had been reading a masterpiece. And I suspect that it has taught me something important about life and survival and love and suffering and death.
January 2015; 448 pages
This book won the 2014 Booker Prize. Other Booker winners in this blog include Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Vernon God Little, and Possession by A S Byatt
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57