Richard Flanagan rails against wrongs ‘too vast to have a name’

‘Is it because we see our world only darkly that we surround ourselves with lies we call time, history, reality, memory, detail, facts?’ Richard Flanagan’s memoir opens at the Ohama coal mine in Japan, once home to his father and a host of other POW slave labourers. It then spirals outwards via his childhood (in a remote Tasmanian settlement), his much-put-upon mother (who hoped Richard would become a plumber), his semi-present, kindly, traumatised father Archie (enshrined in The Narrow Road to the Deep North) and on through all the now-familiar Flanagan themes. These include the horror of drowning; the Dickensian characters of 19th-century Van Diemen’s Land; the mighty Huon pine;

The sheer tedium of life at Colditz

They say each generation needs its own biographies of Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Napoleon, not just when more evidence is unearthed but because the lens through which we view character and motive changes. The same is true for the great set pieces of history. According to Ben Macintyre, the story of Colditz and its second world war POWs with their ‘moustaches firmly set on stiff upper lips, defying the Nazis by tunnelling out of a grim Gothic castle on a German hilltop’ has been unchanged and unchallenged for more than 70 years. In his latest page-turner, Macintyre includes the stories of those heroes who were not straight, white, moustachioed