Intersecting Imperialisms

The Rise and Fall of Empires in Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North

in Journal of World Literature
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Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013), which features the Thai-Burma “Death Railway” in World War Two, depicts a complex web of imperial regimes that converge and clash in the mid-twentieth century. The protagonist is an Australian soldier effectively fighting for his country’s former colonizer, Britain, which is losing its empire to Japan. I build on Laura Doyle’s concept of “inter-imperiality” to explore how the novel illuminates the historical process of imperial factors intersecting at multiple levels, from the geopolitical and economic to the personal and cultural. The novel demonstrates how inter-imperial identities challenge simple binary models of imperialism, and how so-called national literatures are produced in a world context. This is evident in Flanagan’s intertextual homage to classical Japanese author Matsuo Bashō. The novel also highlights how world literature discourse ought to take into account temporal and ethicopolitical factors (Pheng Cheah), suggesting an overlap with postcolonial studies.

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