Wednesday, 5 February 2014
The Railway Man by Eric Lomax
The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, I'm ashamed to say, only came to my attention due to the publicity surrounding the recent film of the same name which features Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. I've not seen the film yet and these are my thoughts on the book not the film. The shame part comes in as I feel like I should have already known about Eric Lomax. He published his book in 1995 and lived only a few miles from where I live now and grew up close by in Joppa. He was a Scot who became well known through the story that he wrote down in The Railway Man, an extraordinary true story of adventure, brutality, tragedy, hatred, love and forgiveness. A story like his should be more widely known and the film has created a wave of publicity which will hopefully bring more people to his book.
Eric Lomax was a prisoner of war during the Second World War and was forced to work on the notorious Burma-Siam railway line known as the Railway of Death. He described himself as a railway enthusiast, a term which was misinterpreted during his interogation at the hands of the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret police, infuriating his interogaters and leading to him being subject to water-torture. He survived this and numerous other physical and mental tortures which led him to take more and more desparate measures in an attempt to escaped his captors. He threw himself down a set of steep iron steps in order to injure himself just enough to be transferred to a less oppressive prison. This plan worked but only for a short period before he was transferred back. The news of Japanese surrender and the end of the war is met with disbelief and fear at what the retreating Japanese may do to their prisoners.
He returns to Scotland and tries to get on with his life but he has become distant and unable to talk about what has happened to him. He has recurring nightmares and carries an intense hatred of the Japanese.
Fifty years go by and a twist of fate leads him to meet his second wife Patti and through her support and a seemingly impossible series of events (this is fact though not fiction!) he gets the opportunity to face one of his tormentors near the site of his imprisonment.
The final passages of the book are genuinely moving and uplifting as this extraordinary man finally gets the chance to free himself from the demons that had tormented him long after the war at ended.
The Railway Man proves a difficult read in places but is well worth the journey.