Cover image for The narrow road to the deep north
Title:
The narrow road to the deep north
Edition:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred K. Knopf, 2014.

©2013
ISBN:
9780385352857
Physical Description:
334 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Awards:
Man Booker Prize for Fiction, 2014
Abstract:
August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever. Moving from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
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Summary

Summary

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

"Nothing since Cormac McCarthy's The Road has shaken me like this." -- The Washington Post

From the author of the acclaimed Gould's Book of Fish, a magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present.
 
August, 1943: Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.
 
A savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.


Reviews 7

Publisher's Weekly Review

From bestselling Australian writer Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish) comes a supple meditation on memory, trauma, and empathy that is also a sublime war novel. Initially, it is related through the reminiscences of Dorrigo Evans, a 77-year-old surgeon raised in Tasmania whose life has been filtered through two catastrophic events: the illicit love affair he embarked on with Amy Mulvaney, his uncle's wife, as a young recruit in the Australian corps and his WWII capture by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. Most of the novel recounts Dorrigo's experience as a POW in the Burmese jungle on the "speedo," horrific work sessions on the "Death Railway" that leave most of his friends dead from dysentery, starvation, or violence. While Amy, with the rest of the world, believes him dead, Dorrigo's only respite comes from the friends he tries to keep healthy and sane, fellow sufferers such as Darky Gardiner, Lizard Brancussi, and Rooster MacNiece. Yet it is Dorrigo's Japanese adversary, Major Nakamura, Flanagan's most conflicted and fully realized character, whose view of the war-and struggles with the Emperor's will and his own postwar fate-comes to overshadow Dorrigo's story, especially in the novel's bracing second half. Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching in its treatment of death, this is a powerful novel. 50,000-copy first printing. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Acclaimed Australian author Flanagan (Gould's Book of Fish, 2002) here gives us surgeon Dorrigo Evans, from his Tasmanian childhood to old age, along the way having been a POW (as Flanagan's father was) on the gruesomely brutal building of the Siam-Burma railroad and having later achieved a fame he feels is undeserved. Flanagan handles the horrifyingly grim details of the wartime conditions with lapidary precision and is equally good on the romance of the youthful indiscretion that haunts Evans. This accomplished tale of love and war could have broad appeal, but the protracted particulars of the prisoners' treatment may put off quite a few readers. Evans performs at one point a major medical procedure under such primitive and inhuman conditions that it will make even tough-minded readers cringe in disgust. Though much of this fine novel (whose title is taken from the Japanese poet Basho) is extraordinarily beautiful, intelligent, and sharply insightful (and even balanced the Japanese captors are portrayed, not sympathetically, but with dimension), it is very strong and powerful medicine indeed.--Levine, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

THE TITLE OF Richard Flanagan's sixth novel comes from a 17th-century Japanese classic, a little book by the poet Basho that mixes a prose travel narrative with haiku in its account of a long journey on foot. Basho went north from present-day Tokyo through a mountainous land of often shattering beauty. Yet his walk was marked by moments of terrible loneliness, and he seemed to travel under a kind of compulsion, without a defined goal or purpose. Basho walks because he must, and in reading him the old cliché comes alive: Life is a journey. Whether that journey has any meaning, whether there's anything beyond putting one foot in front of the other...well, that's another question entirely. Flanagan's Dorrigo Evans, a young medical officer, seems at first to travel a different path. His narrow road is a railway, and he labors too under a different compulsion, one that takes the shape of the Japanese Army. For Dorrigo - the name comes from a town in New South Wales - is a prisoner of war, among the more than 9,000 Australians who in 1943 slaved on what was called the "Death Railway." A train line cut through the jungles of Burma and Thailand, that "Pharaonic project" killed nearly 100,000 of the Allied prisoners and impressed Asian laborers who were forced to build it. Flanagan's own father was among the survivors, but the story told in this grave and lovely novel bears little resemblance to the one the French writer Pierre Boulle offered in the early 1950s in "The Bridge Over the River Kwai." Both Boulle's work and David Lean's Oscar-winning film adaptation have long been challenged for their historical inaccuracy, and by my count Flanagan uses the word "Kwai" exactly twice. He has something much deeper than revisionism on his mind, though, something even deeper than his pungent account of the prisoners' life on "the Line." Dorrigo will read the haiku poet Shisui, who to mark his own death took his brush and painted a circle. His favorite poem, however, is Tennyson's "Ulysses," a dramatic monologue whose speaker is "a part of all that I have met" and yet believes that life's meaning lies just beyond his grasp, in the worlds he has still to travel. Ulysses knows he has "become a name" for one who roams always "with a hungry heart." No experience can satisfy him, no honors either, and so it will be for Dorrigo. Born in Tasmania, like Flanagan himself, he uses a scholarship to get himself to medical school and joins the army as World War II begins. His unit surrenders to the Japanese in Java, and in post-war Australia he will become famous for his work in the prison camp, for the leadership that ensures the survival of most of the men in his command. And he hates his fame - hates the idea of virtue in general and of his own in particular, hates the idea that those months of struggle have come to define his entire life. Dorrigo too is a part of all that he has met, which doesn't mean that everything he encounters has become a part of him. Flanagan has done something difficult here, creating a character who is at once vivid and shadowy. In his long postwar life, Dorrigo will see his own moments of heroism as if performed by someone else. He fulfills his duty while remaining separate from it, and as a husband and father is most often an absent presence. For Flanagan doesn't limit himself to the war. The novels of Tennyson's day often took the form of biography, and so does this one. But its path is far from linear, and Flanagan will cut back and forth in Dorrigo's life: the prison camp, his childhood, a prewar love affair, and then half a century forward. Only on the book's last pages do we understand the moment in camp that irreparably damaged Dorrigo's life, and only then will we see that this trauma has little to do with the camp. Flanagan manages these shifts in time and perspective with extraordinary skill. They're never confusing but they are dizzying, and demand the reader's full attention in a way that reminds me of Conrad. I suspect that on rereading, this magnificent novel will seem even more intricate, more carefully and beautifully constructed. And those formal demands aren't the only ones it makes. Early in the book and late in his life, Dorrigo will tell a mistress he can no longer remember the face of a soldier called Darky Gardiner. The Japanese beat him and he died "and there was no point to it at all." Two hundred pages later we will watch as Darky, by then the most memorably drawn of Dorrigo's soldiers, is kicked and pummeled and left to drown in a pool of excrement. A scene in which Dorrigo tries to cut away a soldier's gangrenous leg is worthy of Zola, sparing us nothing as the doctor searches in the ruins of the man's body for a bit of artery to clamp. "The world is," Dorrigo will think many years later. "It just is." Still, the book's most disturbing pages are those in which Flanagan follows the postwar lives of Dorrigo's captors. The camp's commandant, Major Nakamura, kills a boy in the ruins of Tokyo and buys a new identity that allows him to escape prosecution as a war criminal. A teenage Korean camp guard isn't so lucky. The Japanese think of Choi Sang-min as just one step above the "enemy soldiers who had surrendered because they were too cowardly to kill themselves." They view him with contempt, the prisoners with hatred; the boy goes in fear of them all, and knows he will be punished for showing any restraint. Are these people evil? Some of them. The others merely do evil things. Yet Flanagan isn't interested in anything as simple as humanizing the enemy. They too are ground within the impersonal processes of history, trapped on a wheel from which there is but one escape. The Allies will hang Choi Sang-min; he won't understand why, worried instead that he's owed back pay. Flanagan is best known for his 2001 novel, "Gould's Book of Fish," a grandiloquent oddity, half "Tristram Shandy" and half "Moby-Dick," about the early history of Australia. His language here seems restrained by comparison, and yet it carries a sinewy incantatory power. On a spree after the war, some of Dorrigo's men "drank to make themselves feel as they should feel when they didn't drink, that way they had felt when they hadn't drunk before the war. For that night they felt ferocious and whole and not yet undone." But they are. None will have the lives they should have had, not even Dorrigo, who dislikes the pleasure he takes in his own fame. Basho wrote that "Days and months are travelers of eternity," and Flanagan's book, like the poet's own, will push us far down that path. This "Narrow Road to the Deep North" is both unforgiving and generous, a paradox that should earn it some fame of its own. Are these people evil? Some of them. The others merely do evil things. MICHAEL GORRA'S most recent book is "Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece." He teaches English at Smith College.


Bookseller Publisher Review

In Tasmania, a new book by Richard Flanagan is a much-anticipated event. He is, after all, a local hero. But he is much more than that, and with each book published his Australian and international reputation grows. The Narrow Road to the Deep North will continue this trajectory. It is a grand book. The story centres on Dorrigo Evans' life as a surgeon in a prisoner of war camp on the Burma Railway. Dorrigo is a complex man who, for all his shortcomings, provides leadership and comfort to his men. Flanagan's depictions of the men who are building the railway are fine portraits of Australians, good and bad; these depictions are cleverly balanced later in the book when Flanagan examines the effects of the war on the prison guards. The difference between the European/Australian and the Oriental/Japanese way of thinking is also used to great effect. At the beginning of the war Dorrigo meets a woman in a bookshop in Adelaide before being sent overseas for service. At the end of the war he marries another woman-the one he was expected to marry. The war leaves Dorrigo deeply unhappy; he behaves badly towards his family, while his reputation as a war hero grows. I truly believe anyone with an interest in Australia will enjoy this book. The trick will be getting it into the hands of nonfiction readers who will benefit from the understanding that only fiction can deliver. There is a particularly apt line in this book: `A good book ... leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your soul.' Will we get some national soul-searching from this book? We should. Clive Tilsley is the owner and director of Fullers Bookshop


Guardian Review

Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian writer acclaimed for such novels as Death of a River Guide and Gould's Book of Fish, has a right to focus on the so-called Burma railway, built with forced labour by the Japanese in the second world war. His father was an Australian prisoner of war on the infamous "narrow road", and the railway ran through his childhood, too. Let me say, though, that his book ranges far in time and human fascination beyond that central and barbarous piece of engineering. His Australian protagonist is a surgeon, Dorrigo Evans, who to his own amazement becomes legendary in postwar Australia for his wartime courage in the face of Japanese captors. By his middle years he is a national figure - his own face staring back at him "from charity letterheads to memorial coins". Dorrigo's boyhood took place far from the grief and benefits of the big world, however. Innocent of electricity, his family "slept under skins of possums they snared". He is elevated to medicine as a scholarship boy, and, in a splendid set piece in an Adelaide bookshop, Dorrigo, now a military surgeon, meets a small-framed, gleaming-eyed and galvanising woman named Amy. The affair is somehow permissible because "the war pressed, the war deranged, the war undid, the war excused". The fact that Amy is married to his uncle would be clunky in other hands, but is utterly convincing here. The narrative advances: when we meet the Japanese commander of the Thai railway camp, Nakamura, ridden with jungle ticks and dependent on methamphetamine, we realise that he too is a prisoner of the project. Dorrigo, now the leader of a thousand-strong group of fevered and ulcerated men, stands before him, defiant, "a weak man whom the thousand were forming into the shape of their expectations of him as a strong man". He reports to Nakamura the number - out of his original thousand - still capable of work. But, "three hundred and sixty-three was not the real number . . . Because, thought Dorrigo Evans, the real number was zero." His men are quintessential young Australians, all with names appropriate to Antipodean spaces - Rooster MacNeice, Darky Gardiner, Sheephead Morton, Bonox Baker, Lizard Brancusi, Chum Fahey. They are all dying, but empowered to remain on the right side of death's margin by Dorrigo's determination to make his despair carry the face of "purpose and certainty". Yet on the Line, "violence was eternal, the great and only verity, greater than the civilisations it created". "You still believe in God, Bonox?" Dorrigo asks one of his men. "Dunno, Colonel. It's human beings I'm starting to wonder about." Though Dorrigo doubts the power of memory, after the war his memory pursues all the repatriated personnel of the camps, including Nakamura as he huddles in squalor in a ruined capital, evading a war crimes trial. As for Dorrigo's men, in the new world of peace, survival is not survival. "They died off quickly, strangely, in car crashes and suicides and creeping diseases." Impulsively, in memory of Darky Gardiner and in an inchoate wish to affirm freedom, a group of Dorrigo's men attack the fish tanks in a Hobart fish shop and put the fish back into the sea at Constitution Dock. Dorrigo himself lingers on in the Australian army into peacetime. "It's everyday living that does us in," an officer tells him. He returns not to Amy, but to a daughter of the Melbourne establishment who insists on his real name, "Alvyn". Their marriage is dutiful, doomed, yet perpetual, a "conspiracy of experience". Both Dorrigo and Nakamura seem to others to be actors in the world outside the prison camp, but it is memory of the Line that dominates and consumes them. "Through the decades following the war," Flanagan writes of Dorrigo, "he felt his spirit sleeping, and though he tried hard to rouse it with the shocks and dangers of consecutive and sometimes concurrent adulteries, outbursts, and acts of pointless compassion and reckless surgery, it did no good." Flanagan's novel is a grand examination of what it is to be a good man and a bad man in the one flesh and, above all, of how hard it is to live after survival. The cancer-ridden Nakamura is fascinated by the goodness of his wife and struggles to match it to the savagery of the Line. The middle-aged rawness of Dorrigo and Nakamura's lives is nearly as painful to read about as the bush surgery of the prison camp. To say Flanagan creates a rich tapestry is to overly praise tapestries. One would notice, if not swept along by the tale, that the allocation of time to characters, the certainty of the narration, the confidence to pause and then lunge on, to play with time, are all bravura accomplishments. We don't notice, though. Flanagan is too good to let us. Thomas Keneally's latest book is Shame and the Captives (Sceptre). To order The Narrow Road to the Deep North for pounds 13.49 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk. - Thomas Keneally Caption: Captions: A section of the Burma railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand The narrative advances: when we meet the Japanese commander of the Thai railway camp, Nakamura, ridden with jungle ticks and dependent on methamphetamine, we realise that he too is a prisoner of the project. [Dorrigo Evans], now the leader of a thousand-strong group of fevered and ulcerated men, stands before him, defiant, "a weak man whom the thousand were forming into the shape of their expectations of him as a strong man". He reports to Nakamura the number - out of his original thousand - still capable of work. But, "three hundred and sixty-three was not the real number . . . Because, thought Dorrigo Evans, the real number was zero." His men are quintessential young Australians, all with names appropriate to Antipodean spaces - Rooster MacNeice, Darky Gardiner, Sheephead Morton, Bonox Baker, Lizard Brancusi, Chum Fahey. They are all dying, but empowered to remain on the right side of death's margin by Dorrigo's determination to make his despair carry the face of "purpose and certainty". Yet on the Line, "violence was eternal, the great and only verity, greater than the civilisations it created". "You still believe in God, Bonox?" Dorrigo asks one of his men. "Dunno, Colonel. It's human beings I'm starting to wonder about." - Thomas Keneally.


Kirkus Review

A literary war novel with asplit personality, about a protagonist who loathes his dual character.Ambition leads to excess in thesixth novel by Flanagan (Wanting, 2009, etc.), a prizewinning writer much renowned in his nativeAustralia. The scenes of Australian POWs held by the Japanese have power anddepth, as do the postwar transformations of soldiers on both sides. But thenovel's deep flaw is a pivotal plot development that aims at the literaryheights of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary but sounds too oftenlike a swoon-worthy bodice ripper. "His pounding head, the pain in everymovement and act and thought, seemed to have as its cause and remedy her, andonly her and only her and only her," rhapsodizes Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon whowill be hailed as a national hero for his leadership in World War II, though hefeels deeply unworthy. His obsession is Amy, a woman he met seemingly bychance, who has made the rest of his existenceincluding his fianceeseem draband lifeless. She returns his ardor and ups the ante: "God, she thought, howshe wanted him, and how unseemly and unspeakable were the ways in which shewanted him." Alas, it is not to be, for she is married to his uncle, and he hasa war that will take him away, and each will think the other is dead. And thosestretches are where the novel really comes alive, as they depict the brutalityinflicted by the Japanese on the POWs who must build the Thai-Burma railway(which gives the novel its title) and ultimately illuminate their differentvalues and their shared humanity.When the leads are offstage,the novel approaches greatness in its inquiry into what it means to be a good person. But there's too much "her body was a poem beyondmemorising" for the novel to fulfill its considerable ambition. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

One of Australia's most celebrated authors, Flanagan has garnered multiple awards for his fiction (Wanting), nonfiction (And What Do You Do, Mr. Gable?), and directing (The Sound of One Hand Clapping). He has an uncanny ability to write literary prose with journalistic exactness set against cinematic landscapes. Taking its name from a collection of haiku poems by Matsuo Basho-, this novel is set at the end of World War II in a Japanese POW camp. Australian prisoners, led by physician Dorrigo Evans, are assigned the grueling task of building the Thai-Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway and famously depicted in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. (Flanagan's father had been a POW and worked on the railway.) Amid daily violence, disease, and death, both the prisoners and the guards search for a sense of normalcy as they remain duty-bound to hierarchy. As the war ends and soldiers return to civilian life, each struggles to find meaning outside the routines of imprisonment. Dorrigo, in particular, has trouble reconciling his status as hero with the unshakable trauma he's experienced. VERDICT Utilizing prose and poems, Flanagan articulates the silent experiences and fractured memories of war. Not so much for fans of historical fiction, this narrative will instead appeal to the deeply introspective reader. [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]-Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

chapter 1 Why at the beginning of things is there always light? Dorrigo Evans' earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother. A wooden church hall. Blinding light and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women. Women who loved him. Like entering the sea and returning to the beach. Over and over. Bless you, his mother says as she holds him and lets him go. Bless you, boy. That must have been 1915 or 1916. He would have been one or two. Shadows came later in the form of a forearm rising up, its black outline leaping in the greasy light of a kerosene lantern. Jackie Maguire was sitting in the Evanses' small dark kitchen, crying. No one cried then, except babies. Jackie Maguire was an old man, maybe forty, perhaps older, and he was trying to brush the tears away from his pockmarked face with the back of his hand. Or was it with his fingers? Only his crying was fixed in Dorrigo Evans' memory. It was a sound like something breaking. Its slowing rhythm reminded him of a rabbit's hind legs thumping the ground as it is strangled by a snare, the only sound he had ever heard that was similar. He was nine, had come inside to have his mother look at a blood blister on his thumb, and had little else to compare it to. He had seen a grown man cry only once before, a scene of astonishment when his brother Tom returned from the Great War in France and got off the train. He had swung his kitbag onto the hot dust of the siding and abruptly burst into tears. Watching his brother, Dorrigo Evans had wondered what it was that would make a grown man cry. Later, crying became simply affirmation of feeling, and feeling the only compass in life. Feeling became fashionable and emotion became a theatre in which people were players who no longer knew who they were off the stage. Dorrigo Evans would live long enough to see all these changes. And he would remember a time when people were ashamed of crying. When they feared the weakness it bespoke. The trouble to which it led. He would live to see people praised for things that were not worthy of praise, simply because truth was seen to be bad for their feelings. That night Tom came home they burnt the Kaiser on a bonfire. Tom said nothing of the war, of the Germans, of the gas and the tanks and the trenches they had heard about. He said nothing at all. One man's feeling is not always equal to all life is. Sometimes it's not equal to anything much at all. He just stared into the flames. 2 A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else. In his old age Dorrigo Evans never knew if he had read this or had himself made it up. Made up, mixed up, and broken down. Relentlessly broken down. Rock to gravel to dust to mud to rock and so the world goes, as his mother used to say when he demanded reasons or explanation as to how the world got to be this way or that. The world is, she would say. It just is, boy. He had been trying to wrest the rock free from an outcrop to build a fort for a game he was playing when another, larger rock dropped onto his thumb, causing a large and throbbing blood blister beneath the nail. His mother swung Dorrigo up onto the kitchen table where the lamp light fell strongest and, avoiding Jackie Maguire's strange gaze, lifted her son's thumb into the light. Between his sobs Jackie Maguire said a few things. His wife had the week previously taken the train with their youngest child to Launceston, and not returned. Dorrigo's mother picked up her carving knife. Along the blade's edge ran a cream smear of congealed mutton fat. She placed its tip into the coals of the kitchen range. A small wreath of smoke leapt up and infused the kitchen with the odour of charred mutton. She pulled the knife out, its glowing red tip glittering with sparkles of brilliant white-hot dust, a sight Dorrigo found at once magical and terrifying. Hold still, she said, taking hold of his hand with such a strong grip it shocked him. Jackie Maguire was telling how he had taken the mail train to Launceston and gone looking for her, but he could find her nowhere. As Dorrigo Evans watched, the red-hot tip touched his nail and it began to smoke as his mother burnt a hole through the cuticle. He heard Jackie Maguire say-- She's vanished off the face of the earth, Mrs Evans. And the smoke gave way to a small gush of dark blood from his thumb, and the pain of his blood blister and the terror of the red-hot carving knife were gone. Scram, Dorrigo's mother said, nudging him off the table. Scram now, boy. Vanished! Jackie Maguire said. All this was in the days when the world was wide and the island of Tasmania was still the world. And of its many remote and forgotten outposts, few were more forgotten and remote than Cleveland, the hamlet of forty or so souls where Dorrigo Evans lived. An old convict coaching village fallen on hard times and out of memory, it now survived as a railway siding, a handful of crumbling Georgian buildings and scattered verandah-browed wooden cottages, shelter for those who had endured a century of exile and loss. Backdropped by woodlands of writhing peppermint gums and silver wattle that waved and danced in the heat, it was hot and hard in summer, and hard, simply hard, in winter. Electricity and radio were yet to arrive, and were it not that it was the 1920s, it could have been the 1880s or the 1850s. Many years later Tom, a man not given to allegory but perhaps prompted, or so Dorrigo had thought at the time, by his own impending death and the accompanying terror of the old--that all life is only allegory and the real story is not here--said it was like the long autumn of a dying world. Their father was a railway fettler, and his family lived in a Tasmanian Government Railways weatherboard cottage by the side of the line. Of a summer, when the water ran out, they would bucket water from the tank set up for the steam locomotives. They slept under skins of possums they snared, and they lived mostly on the rabbits they trapped and the wallabies they shot and the potatoes they grew and the bread they baked. Their father, who had survived the depression of the 1890s and watched men die of starvation on the streets of Hobart, couldn't believe his luck at having ended up living in such a workers' paradise. In his less sanguine moments he would also say, 'You live like a dog and you die like a dog.' Dorrigo Evans knew Jackie Maguire from the holidays he sometimes took with Tom. To get to Tom's he would catch a ride on the back of Joe Pike's dray from Cleveland to the Fingal Valley turnoff. As the old draught horse Joe Pike called Gracie amiably trotted along, Dorrigo would sway back and forth and imagine himself shaping into one of the boughs of the wildly snaking peppermint gums that fingered and flew through the great blue sky overhead. He would smell damp bark and drying leaves and watch the clans of green and red musk lorikeets chortling far above. He would drink in the birdsong of the wrens and the honeyeaters, the whipcrack call of the jo-wittys, punctuated by Gracie's steady clop and the creak and clink of the cart's leather traces and wood shafts and iron chains, a universe of sensation that returned in dreams. They would make their way along the old coach road, past the coaching hotel the railway had put out of business, now a dilapidated near ruin in which lived several impoverished families, including the Jackie Maguires. Once every few days a cloud of dust would announce the coming of a motorcar, and the kids would appear out of the bush and the coach-house and chase the noisy cloud till their lungs were afire and their legs lead. At the Fingal Valley turnoff Dorrigo Evans would slide off, wave Joe and Gracie goodbye, and begin the walk to Llewellyn, a town distinguished chiefly by being even smaller than Cleveland. Once at Llewellyn, he would strike north-east through the paddocks and, taking his bearings from the great snow-covered massif of Ben Lomond, head through the bush towards the snow country back of the Ben, where Tom worked two weeks on, one week off as a possum snarer. Mid-afternoon he would arrive at Tom's home, a cave that nestled in a sheltered dogleg below a ridgeline. The cave was slightly smaller than the size of their skillion kitchen, and at its highest Tom could stand with his head bowed. It narrowed like an egg at each end, and its opening was sheltered by an overhang which meant that a fire could burn there all night, warming the cave. Sometimes Tom, now in his early twenties, would have Jackie Maguire working with him. Tom, who had a good voice, would often sing a song or two of a night. And after, by firelight, Dorrigo would read aloud from some old Bulletins and Smith's Weeklys that formed the library of the two possum snarers, to Jackie Maguire, who could not read, and to Tom, who said he could. They liked it when Dorrigo read from Aunty Rose's advice column, or the bush ballads that they regarded as clever or sometimes even very clever. After a time, Dorrigo began to memorise other poems for them from a book at his school called The English Parnassus. Their favourite was Tennyson's 'Ulysses'. Pockmarked face smiling in the firelight, gleaming bright as a freshly turned out plum pudding, Jackie Maguire would say, Oh, them old timers! They can string them words together tighter than a brass snare strangling a rabbit! And Dorrigo didn't say to Tom what he had seen a week before Mrs Jackie Maguire vanished: his brother with his hand reaching up inside her skirt, as she--a small, intense woman of exotic darkness--leaned up against the chicken shed behind the coaching house. Tom's face was turned in on her neck. He knew his brother was kissing her. For many years, Dorrigo often thought about Mrs Jackie Maguire, whose real name he never knew, whose real name was like the food he dreamt of every day in the POW camps--there and not there, pressing up into his skull, a thing that always vanished at the point he reached out towards it. And after a time he thought about her less often; and after a further time, he no longer thought about her at all. 3 Dorrigo was the only one of his family to pass the Ability Test at the end of his schooling at the age of twelve and so receive a scholarship to attend Launceston High School. He was old for his year. On his first day, at lunchtime, he ended up at what was called the top yard, a flat area of dead grass and dust, bark and leaves, with several large gum trees at one end. He watched the big boys of third and fourth form, some with sideburns, boys already with men's muscles, line up in two rough rows, jostling, shoving, moving like some tribal dance. Then began the magic of kick to kick. One boy would boot the football from his row across the yard to the other row. And all the boys in that row would run together at the ball and--if it were coming in high--leap into the air, seeking to catch it. And as violent as the fight for the mark was, whoever succeeded was suddenly sacrosanct. And to him, the spoil--the reward of kicking the ball back to the other row, where the process was repeated. So it went, all lunch hour. Inevitably, the senior boys dominated, taking the most marks, getting the most kicks. Some younger boys got a few marks and kicks, many one or none. Dorrigo watched all that first lunchtime. Another first-form boy told him that you had to be at least in second form before you had a chance in kick to kick--the big boys were too strong and too fast; they would think nothing of putting an elbow into a head, a fist into a face, a knee in the back to rid themselves of an opponent. Dorrigo noticed some smaller boys hanging around behind the pack, a few paces back, ready to scavenge the occasional kick that went too high, lofting over the scrum. On the second day, he joined their number. And on the third day, he found himself up close to the back of the pack when, over their shoulders, he saw a wobbly drop punt lofting high towards them. For a moment it sat in the sun, and he understood that the ball was his to pluck. He could smell the piss ants in the eucalypts, feel the ropy shadows of their branches fall away as he began running forward into the pack. Time slowed, he found all the space he needed in the crowding spot into which the biggest, strongest boys were now rushing. He understood the ball dangling from the sun was his and all he had to do was rise. His eyes were only for the ball, but he sensed he would not make it running at the speed he was, and so he leapt, his feet finding the back of one boy, his knees the shoulders of another and so he climbed into the full dazzle of the sun, above all the other boys. At the apex of their struggle, his arms stretched out high above him, he felt the ball arrive in his hands, and he knew he could now begin to fall out of the sun. Cradling the football with tight hands, he landed on his back so hard it shot most of the breath out of him. Grabbing barking breaths, he got to his feet and stood there in the light, holding the oval ball, readying himself to now join a larger world. As he staggered back, the melee cleared a respectful space around him. Who the fuck are you? asked one big boy. Dorrigo Evans. That was a blinder, Dorrigo. Your kick. The smell of eucalypt bark, the bold, blue light of the Tasmanian midday, so sharp he had to squint hard to stop it slicing his eyes, the heat of the sun on his taut skin, the hard, short shadows of the others, the sense of standing on a threshold, of joyfully entering a new universe while your old still remained knowable and holdable and not yet lost--all these things he was aware of, as he was of the hot dust, the sweat of the other boys, the laughter, the strange pure joy of being with others. Excerpted from The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel by Richard Flanagan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.