69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 1996
In this work of Eric Lomax, one finds direct contrasts between
brutality and meekness, revenge and forgiveness. The author
was a signals officer in the Pacific Theater of the war and
was captured after the fall of Singapore. He was then sent to
the POW camps involved in the construction of the then Siam-
Burma railway (Remember the "Bridge Over the River Kwai"?).
There he had first-hand experience of the Japanese's brutal
treatment of POWs, himself included. He never forgot the face
of the Japanese interpreter accompanying the soldier who beat
him to a pulp. He narrates how he had to cope psychologically
with normal life after the war, how his wartime experiences
kept on haunting him. Coincidentally, he chances upon some
information regarding a Japanese trying to make reparations
for his wartime brutalities, and indeed confirms that this
was his former tormentor. After a lot of soul-searching, he
finally meets the Japanese in a war memorial beside the Kwai
River bridge, and the process of reconciliation and healing
begins. A very touching story of man's capacity to perhaps
not to forget, but yes, to forgive.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2010
In February 1942, the city of Singapore, defended by 80,000 British and Commonwealth troops, surrenders to the Japanese. The loss of Singapore, coupled with the preceding loss of the British warships Repulse and Prince of Wales, is described by Churchill as the darkest British moments of the Second World War, whilst the capitulation of Singapore becomes the British Army's greatest defeat.
Amongst the tens of thousands of British soldiers rounded up and taken into captivity is Lt. Eric Lomax, a Royal Signals officer. Initially, the vast mass of British POWs hugely outnumbers their Japanese captors, leading to a relaxed atmosphere where the British prisoners mostly police themselves. Overconfident, many of the British prisoners began building home-made radios to keep a closer eye on the course of the war. However, as time passes the POWs begin to be dispersed, many being sent to be worked to death on the River Kwae railway as it slowly makes its way across Thailand and into Burma. In these smaller camps, much more aggressively policed by Japanese guards, the prisoners find their confidence and expectation of good treatment rapidly disabused. Lomax's involvement in the construction of clandestine radios leads him to being imprisoned, humiliated, tortured and condemned to a number of horrific prisons in and around Bangkok.
Eventually the war ends and Lomax returns home, but finds that his torture continues. His experiences lead to the breakdown of his first marriage, an estrangement from his father and decades of nightmares and broken sleep patterns. Only in the early 1990s does Lomax finally receive the counselling and psychiatric help he has needed, a process which eventually leads him back to Thailand and a meeting with one of his Japanese tormentors, an interpreter who rejected his nation's barbarous methods of torture and militarism and has spent the decades since working to ensure that the Japanese do not forget what they did in the war. In this meeting Lomax eventually finds a kind of peace, fifty years after the war ends.
The Railway Man is a memoir of one man's experiences in the Second World War. It opens with a summary of Lomax's childhood and background, his experiences as a railway and engineering enthusiast, his decision to enlist before WWII even starts and his eventual involvement in the debacle of Singapore's fall (the city's monstrous defences were oriented seaward, allowing the Japanese to simply walk in from the rear and take it almost completely unopposed). This is followed by the largest part of the book, as Lomax recalls his experiences in various POW camps and later prisons, in which he recounts his treatment at the hands of the Japanese. These sections are definitely not for those with weak stomachs. The cruelty of the Japanese to those who surrendered to them is well-documented, but even so the sheer, inhuman horror they inflicted on Lomax is shocking. However, even more startling is the lack of counselling or treatment Lomax received upon his eventual release, and the mild mistreatment inflicted on the former POWs by their liberators (such as former POWs, in many cases malnourished and weakened by four years of captivity, being expected to do the work of fully-healthy, fresh recruits on the return voyage to Britain).
The book ends with Lomax's experiences as a much older man, meeting one of his former tormentors face-to-face in Thailand, revisiting his old prison camp and then visiting Japan. This section of the book is the most powerful, as Lomax's utter hatred and loathing of the Japanese comes through the text vividly. He has no interest in forgiveness or reconciliation until he meets his former adversary and discovers the extreme lengths he has gone to to make amends for his actions in the war, including directly challenging Japan's culture of denial and disinterest in the war crimes committed by its soldiers during the war.
The Railway Man is one of the most powerful experiences of life in wartime I have ever read. Lomax illuminates the so-called 'forgotten war' by showing the rank foolishness that led to Singapore's capture, the overconfidence of the British POWs whose initial freedoms led them into a false sense of security, and the horrors of torture, in which no punches are pulled. Lomax describes his own mistreatment in a somewhat dispassionate tone for the most part, but occasionally his fury and anger at his mistreatment comes through, undimmed by fifty years of peace (the book was originally published in 1995). Lomax refuses to consider himself a hero, citing many of his fellow soldiers whose feats were more impressive (such as the Scottish officer who grabbed a rifle off a startled Japanese guard to put a bullet through one of his own men dying from cholera after the Japanese proved unable to shoot him accurately), but, as with many old soldiers, Lomax dismisses his own achievements too easily. Lomax refuses to give out any names or compromise the network that led to the construction of the radios, despite being put through treatments almost too horrendous to contemplate (including the Japanese practice of repeated waterboarding), saving the lives of his colleagues. The final section, dealing with the reconciliation, is quietly hopeful, with the reader left hoping that the author has indeed exorcised his demons through the process of the meeting and the writing of this book.
The Railway Man (*****) is a remarkable story, powerful, moving and intense, and again confirming that people can endure incredible hardships under extraordinary circumstances when the need is greatest. It is a book that everyone with an interest in the Second World War should read. It is available now in the UK and USA.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2006
I read this book when it was first published about ten years ago and the moving experience has remained with me since I finished the final sentence. It is an incredibly vivid book that you will not be able to put down.
What Eric Lomax went through as a POW, and his eventual reconciliation with one of his torturers 50 years later displays a depth of humanity that is deeply moving.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2003
This is a book that will move you. Eric Lomax is a man of depth, intelligence and keen perception. His writing is vivid, his story one that you can't put down. I strongly urge anyone interested in what the POW experience is like, and anyone interested in a powerful story, to buy and read this book.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2000
We should be grateful for writers such as Lomax, and for books such as this. Remembering, with careful, understated accuracy, his experiences as a prisoner of war in Kanchanaburi during the infamous construction of the Burma Railway, also known as the "Death Railway", it is an honest and beautifully rendered document of tremendous suffering, tremendous pain and the transcending, liberating power of forgiveness.
It reminds us of a time so recent, yet which seems to long ago, and which can so easily be revisited upon us. It is not a document of Japan-bashing or of bitterness or recrimination. It reminds that we are all capable of reat evil, and all capable of surviving great evil. It reminds us of the contradictory yet parallel strains of goodness and darkness that make us human. I feel like a btter person for having read this book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2003
You may think you've read enough harrowing accounts of someone's life as a prisoner of war, but what sets this memoir apart is the resolution of the author's searing memories of one Japanese tormentor in particular, and his life-changing efforts to find and reconnect with that man when both are in their 60s and beyond. Its an incredibly compelling and moving tale, from beginning to end, and beautifully written.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
I first heard about Mr. Lomax in the "Guidepost" magazine, and was eleven when I read this "the Railway Man". And I must say, it's a painful read. After reading an eye-witness account of the treatment of the prisonners, "Bridge to the River Kwai" seems so...tame. This is the real stuff.
It's graphic, like when he drescribes the brutal treatment at the hands of the captors, the endless interrogations, being swarmed over by red ants when they were put in cages, and about the man who tortured him all those years.
Then he talks about going back to England, marrying, and then the jolt of his former torturer being alive. And that they met up again, and how he forgave.
I'm surprised it's out of print, and I still think it should be more widely read. The story may be gut-wrenching (in more ways than one), but when he survived it all, one can't help but wonder how, when so many have died along the way.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"The Railway Man", by Eric Lomax, is his memoirs of his experiences in World War II, as well as his life before and after the war. As a boy, Mr Lomax became a railway enthusiast, a life-long passion, so it was ironic that after his capture as a member of the British Army, after the fall of Singapore, that he was forced to labor on the Siam-Burma railroad. He describes the horrors of the torture and mistreatment that the Japanese inflicted upon the other POW's and himself. And after the Japanese discovered a map of the railway, that Mr Lomax had been drawing, he was accused of being a spy, brutally tortured, and nearly died.
After the war was over, and he was repatriated, he writes about how the British government did virtually nothing for the returning veterans in the way of medical treatments or counseling. It's not for nothing that the Far Eastern campaign has been titled the "Forgotten War".
Fifty years after the war, he discovered that the Japanese interpreter during his tortures was still alive. As with many, if not most veterans from the Pacific Theater of World War II, Mr Lomax utterly hated the Japanese and had no intention of every forgiving them. However, after learning of the great lengths his former adversary (the interpreter) had gone to after the war to make amends, he eventually agreed to meet him, and forgave him.
The book is well written and moving, and is one of the better memoirs dealing with the war in the Pacific.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2006
An unforgettable story of endurance, cruelty and forgiveness. This is a story that stays with the reader, even years later. This is a true story of Mr. Lomax's experience during WWII. He was captured and tortured and almost died. At one time the only thing that kept him alive was practically throwing himself down a flight of stairs so he was transferred to hospital from the dreaded prison. After the War, Mr. Lomax, like many other Veterans was unable to lead a normal life with emotions. Having experienced dreadful torture at the hands of the Japanese he learnt to cut himself off from his feelings, in order to survive. All his life he never forgot the interrupter that was present during his torture, he dreamed of revenge someday. In a miraculous turn of events he mets up with this man, whom it turns out was unable to forget being part of the torture of Mr. Lomax, and it had haunted him all his life. The two men agree to meet, and the most remarkable thing happens they become friends, forgiveness and understanding occurs. This is one of the best books I have read about the POW experience during WWII, it is tragic, and yet has rewarding and true ending.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 1996
AS always WWII for one who dadn't directly experience it, looms myth-like in clearness of intent. Perhaps without extraordinary language the story shines brighter in it's testinment to our humanity. The authors objects are aways clear that he didn't undertake this voyage for a noble reason but for a precious gift of understanding oneself. I stayed up all night, granted I don't sleep well, this book make me glad of the insomnia