Some scenes in ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep South’ are hard to read and impossible to forget. Based on real events, Richard Flanagan’s award-winning novel tells of the experience of prisoners of war on the infamous Thai-Burma death railway, in raw and horrifying detail.
One of the passages that is particularly difficult to erase from my mind is when Flanagan wrote of live dissections (or ‘vivisections’) of prisoners, and the image of a still-beating heart placed on scales, making them tremble. This after the soldier has lain down before the barbaric surgeons who he believes will help him, as trusting as a child.
Then there were brutal bashings that lasted hours, skin flaking from faces, stinking ulcers that left bone gruesomely exposed, diarrhoea running down skeletal legs and a drowning too horrible to recount.
Similarly, while ‘Regeneration’ is a war book set away from the battlefield in a convalescent hospital, there were times when I was again moved and horrified by vivid descriptions of the wartime experience. In one particularly horrific scene, Pat Barker wrote of a soldier who fell, finding himself breathing the foul contents of a rotting stomach of another soldier. Afterwards, he could not keep food down, as it continued to remind him of the stench.
Both books made me wonder at what point the depiction of painful, terrible experiences becomes too graphic, or if that point even exists. Is there a higher reason for triggering the reader’s emotions in such a way, or is recounting this kind of suffering merely war porn?
Of course, there is a level of privilege in even pondering the question, as the reader reclines with a novel in the comfort of their centrally heated homes, far from the trenches and artillery fire. On the front line, real people endured this very real pain and horror …read more
Source:: The Huffington Post – Australia