…one might immediately recognize the above title from a Basho haiku.
…one might immediately understand this to be the 7th novel by the powerfully gifted writer, Richard Flanagan.
…one might immediately be drawn in by this visual provocation of the Narrow Road drawing one ever deeper and deeper toward their own private North.
…but no matter your association, or your lack of one, what one such as you, should do, is to clear hours away on your personal calendar and enter this book…and prepare yourself for it to enter – and carve out – a terrifically deep north, inside of you.
For the past two weeks, I have given my breath over to this book…letting the daily existential “must do’s” of life fall away as much as I possibly could so that I could experience the gut-wrenching brilliance that Flanagan seemed to carve out of some “David-esque” like marble inside of him. It is not a book for the faint-of-heart…initially, I stopped reading it myself after a few days in, though for different reasons. It is a deeply masculine novel and at that time, I was not interested in what that offered. But I must say, I am immensely grateful and forever glad that I decided to return to this book – because once I did, I was loathe to put it down.
To read this novel is to be granted insight to the complexity and enormity of love, to the deplorable and inescapable bonds of the nature of war, to the incredibly simple and poignant moments of humanity, to the senseless brutality and grotesqueness of war and its demands…and somehow, the vulgar yet understandable, despicable yet perhaps ultimately necessary, ways in which humanity progresses forward. The finger pointing blame never stands still, to live is to be complicit and so it moves among us, spreading blame like a fever, like a fog blown silently with the wind, landing on each and every one who has ever taken breath, lived, loved, hated, taken, said yes, said no, or even said maybe.
Somehow, through poetry, through what lies just off to the center, through what resides inside the flotsam… the particles that illuminate through the dance of light – Flanagan reveals to us the shadow that we all reside in. In war, indeed, in love…there are no rules, we play by the “winner takes all” mentality – doing what we must so that we may continue on, dance among the living, and BE.
This textual dance that Flanagan weaves between love and war, between beauty and ache, thrive and waste, interruption and continuance, loss and salvation…infuses this novel with a rhythmic, agonizing, decrepit pulse of blood, wound, artery, scream, and through silence. It destroys and demands and loves and kills and intercedes and allows and falls and lies down…leaving the reader battered and bruised and completely re-arranged.
… and ever the more, human.
As I flip through my book, I see dog-earred pages everywhere. If I could consume this book, I would. I would eat it and let its despicable and wondrous nourishment substantiate me into a fully formed understanding of what it really means to live, to be at the top of the chain – to be human. I do not think I have that inside of me…not yet, perhaps not ever. But this grew in me as I read, like a lotus, coiling up through dark mud. And as I read, and walked upon my own narrow road toward this deep north, I recognized that this is precisely what we must all do. Walk toward our own immanent death from the very first intake of breath. Life calls, and we begin. And the road inevitably, and in varying degrees, calls us to our place of reckoning where we ultimately come face to face with our truest self…
I deeply hope to find there, my humanity continuing to reside.
A bee staggers out of the peony.