Ok, I’m breaking my own rules here – this book is not lovely. It is not an easy read and often it is not an enjoyable read. The story is horrific, sadistic and painful, yet it HAS to be read.
The Railway Man is the story of Eric Lomax, a British communications officer in World War II. He is captured whilst in Singapore, becomes a prisoner of war and is forced to help build the Burma Railway under his strict Japanese captors.
Anyone who has read anything about the Burma Railway will know about the atrocities faced by those working on it. If you haven’t read about it, here is a run down: The Japanese decided to build a railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma in 1943. A quarter of a million people (a mix of civilians and POWs) were forced to build it in deplorable conditions. One person died for every railway sleeper that was laid. On a 258mile railway that amounts to around 115,000 people. The railway was to be built through hilly jungle over many rivers – a terrain that was previously deemed impossible to build through. It was atrocious.
Lomax’s autobiography is a detailed account of everything that happened to him during the war. There is no detail left out, no matter how horrendous. The content makes this book difficult to read and what is, almost, concerning, is the matter-of-fact way in which it is written. Torture, abuse, beatings, starvation is described as simply as if describing a walk in the park. But that coldness, and the way Lomax shuts himself off is a result of the appalling events he witnessed in South East Asia and makes the book even more harrowing.
The Japanese captors were cruel and treated Lomax and his colleagues worse than you can imagine. Mental and physical torture fills the book and it is so painful to read, but stories like this have to be written about. Much like 12 Years A Slave stories need to be told in order to prevent them happening again. So the atrocities aren’t lost in the past.
The story of Eric Lomax was recently made into a film with Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jeremy Irvine. There is so much left out of the film (mainly because the content is just too horrible to show) but it was a pretty good adaptation nonetheless.
Have you read The Railway Man? What did you think of it? Leave links and comments below.