“Wealth, fame, success, adulation — all that came later seemed only to compound the sense of meaninglessness he was to find in civilian life. He could never admit to himself that it was death that had given his life meaning (pg. 254).”
The winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for literature, The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A novel by Richard Flanagan is a captivating novel about war, virtue, suffering, love, and straining in a world of unfulfilled desires and broken dreams.
As I read about the life of Dorrigo Evans, I felt as though I was watching the Book of Ecclesiastes being unfolded in literary form. A womanizer, an absent father, a sometimes careless yet excellent surgeon, a young Australian military doctor, a prisoner of war in the midst of Japan’s infamous Thai-Burma death railway in 1943, and a unassuming leader of other prisoners who would do anything to ensure their survival. A man of immense contradictions, Dorrigo Evans is a character who spends his life seeking for something to fill the emptiness and longing in his soul. Yet even when he finds what he thinks he is looking for in the arms of the woman he will never reunite with after the war (not his wife), even then, there is no shalom in his heart.
“He was bored by the sex of his adulteries, which was why, he presumed, he pursued them ever more ardently, imagining that there must be somewhere someone who could break the spell of torpor, his soul’s strange sleep (pg. 288).”
Of course this book is about much more than one man’s life. There are the horrors of beatings, starvation, torture, and cruelty of the Japanese officers overseeing the POW camp. And then there are the post war years as survivors and nations tried to pick up the pieces of shattered lives in the years to come.
However, for me, I was intrigued by the way Flanagan shows how the pursuit of our idols are unable to ultimately bear up under the weight of our expectations for them. Through excellent prose, storytelling, and a mastery of the english language, this is a story that shows the vanity of life lived apart from the light and love of the Creator.
“There was around him an exhausted emptiness, an impenetrable void cloaked this most famously collegial man, as if he already lived in another place — forever unravelling and refurling a limitless dream or an unceasing nightmare, it was hard to know — from which he would never escape. He was a lighthouse whose light could not be relit (Pg. 297).”