How Little I Know

Yesterday I finished reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan and there was one very minor part of the book that stuck out to me and made me realize how little I know. It was a brief description of what the Australian POWs were doing before they were captured. Fighting the Vichy French and Senegal Natives in Thailand.

It makes some sense that the Nazis would use those they conquered as front-line troops but it is also interesting that they ended up in Thailand fighting for the Japanese against Australia. World War II was a world war. It is in the name, but there is so much of it we aren’t taught in school or that makes it to mainstream media.

The American version of WWII is Pearl Harbor–D-Day–Victory. That is about it. There is maybe some mention of Hitler invading Poland and Stalingrad and the Holocaust but most of it is focused on the heroism of American soldiers.

This is why reading outside your culture and diving deeper into subjects is important. I would have never sought out a book by an Australian author if it wasn’t for the current library challenge of reading one book that is written by or takes place in each of the seven continents.

The fact that I keep ending up reading about WWII shows how long of a shadow that event cast. My African book The Power of One also dealt with WWII and its impact on the government of South Africa before, during, and after the war.

The one thing I have realized is that WWII was as much a war about colonialism as anything else. It was the very center of the Japanese propaganda for going to war. They were removing the European influence from Asia.

The other part of The Narrow Road to the Deep North that is going to stick with me is how it treats the Japanese and Korean soldiers that were in charge of the POW work camps. When I was taught or have watched American movies about the Pacific Theater of the war the Japanese are shown to be honorable, if misguided, warriors. The Narrow Road to the Deep North shows them to be no different than their German counterparts believing that they are the superior race, performing surgery without anesthesia, and having brutal work camps where prisoners of war were abused beyond human reason.

After this, I do feel I need a break from literary fiction. Between The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Rabbit, Run, and The Power of One I have spent a good amount of time reading deep-dive character studies, and I think it is time for a bit more genre fiction. Let the brain rest for a while.

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