On Tuesday in London, the judging panel for Britain’s 2014 Man Booker Prize for literature announced this year’s winner: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Australian Richard Flanagan.
The novel, Flanagan’s sixth, tells the story of POWs in World War II who were forced by their captors to work on the Thailand-Burma Railway, also known as the “Death Railway” for the more than 100,000 who died in the process of building it.
NPR’s Lynn Neary reported that the book was inspired by Flanagan’s father, who was a real-life POW made to work on the railway. She says Flanagan’s father died on the same day his son told him the novel was complete.
“A.C. Grayling who chaired the judge’s committee called it a ‘magnificent novel of love and war.’ It is, he said, ‘the book that Richard Flanagan was born to write.’ ”
This was the first year the Man Booker Prize was open to American writers. NPR reported in September that two Americans were shortlisted for the award this year: Joshua Ferris for his work To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and Karen Joy Fowler for her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
More from Lynn:
“The Man Booker Prize has always been open to writers in the U.K. and commonwealth countries. The decision to include writers from the U.S. was a controversial one but Grayling said in the end, Americans did not ‘overwhelm’ the process.”
NPR book critic Alan Cheuse reviewed The Narrow Road in August of this year:
“Flanagan’s descriptions of the daily round of increased labor, diminishing food and nightmarish hygiene make for difficult reading. The set-pieces showing off Japanese cruelty seem almost beyond credulity, as when one Japanese officer describes in great detail how an older officer instructed him in the proper way to behead prisoners, or when we hear eyewitness testimony about the experimental live dissection of a prisoner of war, or the stark physical descriptions of prisoners in various states of sickness and dying. All this makes for a portrait of war in the Pacific that could have been rendered by Hieronymus Bosch….
“After setting down this eccentric masterwork of a novel, full of deep insight, afflicted love and cosmic passion alongside painful, even horrendous suffering, Flanagan’s music still plays on and on in my head.”