While the story is about far more than the Thai-Burma Death Railway — think love, hope, humanity, memory — the setting of a Japanese POW camp along the railway looms large and dominates in this beautiful novel.
The story is woven around the main character, Australian Dorrigo Evans, a doctor in camp. The camp is brought hauntingly to life in a way possibly not captured in any other book — if you plan to visit Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi in Thailand, you really should read this ahead of time, or while you are on the road. The horror of the war — and every day life in the camp — is juxtaposed with a passionate love affair in Australia, perhaps throwing the tragedy of the line into even sharper relief.
In an ambitious move, Flanagan delves deep into the mind of the enemy, too, and explores the years after the war as the survivors seek to recover their lives. Interestingly, Flanagan’s father worked on the railway. He dedicated the book to him and he died the day it was published.
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