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The Railway Man Paperback – 6 Jun 1996
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"What a great book. What a great man" (Harry Ritchie Daily Mail)
"Forget the grueling films, just read the brilliant books" (Independent)
"This beautiful, awkward book tells the story of a fine and awkward man. Here, I think, is an account that rises above mere timeliness and comes near to being a classic of autobiography" (Ian Jack Guardian)
"When I turned to the book, the complexity of Lomax's emotions came alive and burned off the page" (Independent)
"Of all the billions of words that have been written about the Second World War, with the exception of Churchill's Nobel Prize winning history, it is not an exaggeration to say there is no account of it more worth reading that this. Wistfully romantic, historically important, startling, horrifying and ultimately electrifyingly uplifting, The Railway Man is as indispensable as any book can be." (Tom Peck Independent)
Highly-anticipated film starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jeremy Irvine (Warhorse) released January 2014See all Product description
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This book is a masterpiece of amateur self-analysis, a tale of tragic irony in which a self-confessed train spotter ends up building the Burma Railway.
Lomax is a beautifully understated writer, crafting each idea like a hand-made spare part for a steam locomotive. His powers of observation, developed over years of silently watching trains go by, drill into his own psyche to recognise the real Eric Lomax.
His expertise in identifying and remembering train trivia is counterpointed by his utter failure as a man, (which makes the book and which Hollywood corrupts). The brutal experience of Burma does nothing, at the time, to help him empathise wth others, and he returns to Britain a shell with only a tiny seed inside.
The book looks at that seed growing over many years, the years it took for him to recognise himself, and come to accept who he was. The fertiliser for this personal growth was what he thought was hatred for his Japanese torturers, and his need for revenge.
Instead of leading to violent clash, Lomax finally confronts one of them, and learns at last to express his feelings. He can empathise with another, he has become a Man, the Railway Man.
The book really falls into three sections. In the first Lomax describes his lifelong love of railways and steam engines and his deployment in South East Asia in the Second World War. In the second he is captured by the Japanese, caught with an illicit home-made radio and brutally tortured and imprisoned in horrific conditions. In the final section of the book he describes the events which resulted in him travelling to Thailand to meet Takashi Nagase, the interpreter who had played a central part in his torture. Initially uncertain Lomax slowly comes to understand the enormous burden of guilt carried by Nagase and gradually comes to like him, call him a friend and, in a beautifully written piece of writing, to forgive him.
In this section of the book he describes how they had intended to make a documentary of this most difficult reunion, but that it was problematic to organise and that he ended up flying to Thailand in connection with a charity instead. This is odd because the documentary was certainly made which includes film of several of the events exactly as described in the book ("Enemy, My Friend?"). I feel Lomax is trying to downplay the role of the documentary, although he does refer briefly to the presence of a photographer. I'm not sure why this obvious discrepancy is not tackled head-on and it left me wondering.
Eric Lomax comes across as a fascinating, warm, intelligent and thoughtful person and his book was an emotional roller coaster. The incredible strength of character required to turn such justifiable hate into something which appears to be close to love is described in his typical understated stiff-upper-lip style - and is all the more powerful for it.
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