Chair of the judging panel, AC Grayling said of the novel, “the best and worst of judging books is when you come across one that kicks you so hard you can’t pick up the next one on the pile for a couple of days, it delays you but you know you’ve met something extraordinary. That’s what happened in the case of this book.”
A novel detailing the relationships that developed between those working on the Death Railway between Thailand and Burma, Flanagan drew on his late father’s own experiences of toiling on the Japanese railway line to craft this novel. Although explicitly not his father’s story, Flanagan readily admits to asking his father about “the nature of mud, the smell of rotting shin bone when a tropical ulcer has opened up, what sour rice tasted like for breakfast”.
This kind of attention to detail, however, does not lock one into a particular account of a particular aspect of a particular war. The depiction of trauma and the condition of war in this novel, as AC Grayling notes, “is timeless; it is not just about the second world war, it is about any war and it is about the effect on a human being.”
In that it invokes the singular rather than the specifc, here stands a novel that is surely worth putting on your “to read” list.