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Reading ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ in Juba

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2015-07-20 18.27.43

The book: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

The place: Juba


Oh dear, it has been a while. I was in Cairo and then I was on holiday in Eritrea and then I was back in the UK for what I thought was going to be at least a few weeks but turned out to be precisely seven days, half in South Wales and half in London, before flying to Juba. There is a running joke that if you ever have a leaving do on departing South Sudan you never actually leave, which is certainly true in my experience: at the end of my three years here, in March 2013, I had three separate leaving dos (a work one, a party and a dinner for close friends), and have since been back twice.

I never really know what to say about South Sudan, which remains the most hopeful and the most hopeless place I know. While I’d never presume to say that South Sudan is home (it isn’t), I do feel at home here in a way I don’t in other places I have worked – primarily because I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else (aside from the UK and Australia), but also because it’s the first country I worked in that I really got my teeth stuck into, and so in many ways it’s my baseline. The day after I got back this time I was on the back of a boda boda* in late afternoon, kicking up dust into the great pink sky, and I had a great and joyous sense of being in place. It is lovely.


I am loving The Narrow Road to the Deep North, although it is rather intense and heavy-going at times. Perhaps it’s only because I am half Australian that I think there is something unique about the Australian war experience in the twentieth century – or maybe there is some truth in it, something to do with the youth of a country and its sense of self being forged in violence (the centrality of Gallipoli in Australian nation-building). Flanagan’s writing – like all the best Australian writers, like Tim Winton and Kate Grenville and Christos Tsiolkas and many others – engages with the ambivalence at the heart of Australian experience, the unease that coalesces around any sense of national pride: it’s neither the hangdog sense of national despair that you find among the English (and, in some ways, the Scots), or the brash delight Americans have in being American,** but somewhere uncomfortably in between.

Photos from lately:

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South Sudan does very impressive skies

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Rubbish photo of sunset from an island in the Nile. Really need to get my proper camera fixed.

2015-07-17 15.40.58

Got to sit in the cockpit on a flight from Yei to Juba. Was childishly excited.

2015-07-17 15.57.42

Juba from the air

*Motorcycle taxi.

**I know, I am generalising enormously, on both counts.


Written by Jess

July 20, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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