Richard Flanagan’s affecting and harrowing story of the Burma “Death Railway” and the Australian prisoners of war who were forced to build it has trumped over 150 of the English-speaking world’s best novels to carry off the prize.
The novel tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, a doctor who falls in love with his uncle’s wife before the war and who survives the ordeal of the railway and Japanese mistreatment to return and be adopted by his country as a hero when he feels anything but. Flanagan’s victory has an added poignancy in that his father, who died on the day the book was finished, was himself a survivor of the railway.
AC Grayling, Chair of Judges who handed out the award, said that what decided the committee in favor of Mr. Flanagan’s novel was “the beauty of the writing, the profoundly intelligent humanity, the excoriating passages of great power, and the great truth of those who carrying on living after an event like that – when loved ones and comrades have been lost, when you are made into a hero but don’t feel like one”. He said he was so affected after reading the novel that he could not pick up another book for a few days afterwards.
According to its website, the Man Booker Prize “promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and publishers.” (The Man Booker Prize used to be specifically for British or Commonwealth writers and works, but about a year ago expanded to take into consideration any book released in the English-speaking world.) The Prize carries with it a cash award of 50,000 pounds (approximately $88,000).
Mr. Flanagan is a native of Australia (specifically Tasmania), and has written five other novels besides The Narrow Road to the Deep North, as well as five works of non-fiction and two screenplays. A vocal environmentalist, he currently lives in Hobart, Tasmania with his wife and three daughters.