Books | The Railway Man

Books | The Railway Man

As a society we have been overexposed to scenes of brutality and desensitised by television. However, the ease of Eric Lomax’s narration makes the untold horrors of the Burma-Siam railway and the conditions and torture experienced by Lomax more harrowing. Eric Lomax seems to be inviting you personally into his home and his life.

The dark irony of his ‘train mania’ as the interrogators brand it, and his passion for order all foreshadow Lomax’s fate – if reality can be foreshadowed. The extent of the brutality can be only expressed in Lomax’s description of starving himself to achieve a brief respite in hospital. It is estimated that one in three western prisoners died. But Eric Lomax’s story is all the more poignant because it dwells on the destinies of the thousands of Chinese, Malays, Javanese and Tamil labourers who also perished in the construction of the ‘Death Railway’.

This is not a book of suspense or dramatisation. Lomax is brutally honest, controlled and understated. At times it is difficult to contemplate that these are real events, and Lomax’s lack of emotion towards the situation is a testament to the level of detachment necessary for survival. Lomax’s life remained tarnished by his repressed memories and his inability to trust those around him or open up. With the continual encouragement and support from his wife Patti, Eric Lomax contacted Takashi Nagase (the only interrogator whose face he remembered) on reading that Nagase felt he had been ‘forgiven’.  Despite Lomax’s fury and hatred, he was surprised by the repentance of the Japanese veteran.  Laughter is certainly an unexpected ending to the autobiography, but The Railway Man shows us man’s capacity both for cruelty and for atonement and forgiveness. Lomax’s story is a testament to humanity, in all its forms.

Watch the film trailer for The Railway Man here

Anastasia Kennedy

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