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The Railway Man
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on 22 February 2017
I saw the film of this book about 2 years ago and was very pleased when I saw the book on Amazon. This true story is one of unimaginable suffering in the heat of Thailand at a time when most of the world was at war. The Japanese had no mercy for their prisoners, believing them to be inferior because they had been captured, and starved and worked them to death in the most brutal way. Just an ordinary man caught up in the shambles that was the fall of Singapore, Eric Lomax's treatment was no worse than that meted out to many other prisoners, indeed he was fortunate not to be sent to work on building the railway, but that he lived to tell us about it is indeed a miracle. His suffering was not confined to the breaking of bones or starvation, the mental scars continued unabated for many years. That he found a way to be at peace is some measure of the man he is, the forgiveness he showed to his captor truly inspiring. A great book. Recommended.
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on 1 April 2018
Ignore the film, ruined by Hollywood obsession with heroic people "Ooooh, he was the best of us" crap. (Colin Firth was perhaps the right man for the role, but the script ruined it)
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.
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on 21 July 2016
There are plenty of compelling first hand accounts of horrific experiences of brutal internment and/or forced labour on the market. Primo Levi's If This is a Man stands out as being a breathtakingly well written account and also one of incredible mental and emotional strength in that he describes his tormentors actions in close detail but never allows his justifiable anger to get the better of him. Eric Lomax is not Primo Levi and although this book is beautifully written you can tell he is not a natural writer. But where Eric Lomax goes way beyond any of the other similar accounts is in revisiting the location of his torment - and his tormentor.

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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on 20 March 2014
It's certainly an interesting tale and remarkable in the fact he was reunited with his torturer. It would be easy to give a five star rating on the basis of his suffering but I don't think it's particularly well written. It's a factual chronological tale of the man's experiences but for me, lacks detail of how he felt mentally during the ordeal. There is plenty of physical description, probably lacking some of the worst abuse he suffered (which I can understand he could not relate fully for a variety of reasons) but I never felt I got to know the man. This lack of detail (as spotted by other reviewers too) makes the final reconciliation appear less astonishing than it should have been and indeed must have been. I had hoped for a greater insight into the war in this part of the world as I had a relative incarcerated in Changi by the Japanese. It might seem churlish to criticise the book given the content but I do like to be objective.
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on 24 February 2015
'It is a strange feeling, being sentenced to death in your early twenties. It made me feel relaxed , in a strange way, to know that I was living on borrowed time. Yet day after day the psychological torment continued'.

Fully realising that I sound very melodramatic I still need to say it: this is the most remarkable story about forgiveness and redemption that I have ever read. Only real life could write a story that is both harrowing and beautiful at the same time - fiction writers could have not even if they tried.

Eric tells us his life story in an honest and straightforward way. We learn about his childhood obsession with locomotives and railways, his schooling, a first job and then his times as a soldier and prisoner of war. It is the latter that is most agonizing for him; the ordeal is both physical and psychological: 'They left me my imagination, and it was a worse tormentor that they could ever be'. Upon return to Edinburgh, Eric's torment is far from over. He was a changed man but people around him, including own family, were not. Eric found their problems petty and at the same time found himself unable to share his POW experiences that haunted him in his dreams. Even worse, his own family did not seem that interested - they just wanted him to behave as the war never happened. Eric soon developed a new life-obsession: revenge. And it was that need for revenge that set a chain of events that eventually led to him going back to Japan and meeting one of his tormentors face to face. The outcome of that meeting might have left me in tears but for Eric it meant letting go of the demons that had haunted him for almost five decades long. He realised that 'remembering is not enough, if it simply hardens hate. (...) Sometime the hating has to stop'.

This is a real story told by a real person and it reads like one. When reading Eric's account I was questioning his decades-long obsession with revenge. I thought:' you can't live a life like that.' But as Eric rightly noted: ' people who hand out advice about forgiveness have not gone through the sort of experience I had...' I cannot argue with that and that one little sentence made me feel so ignorant. That's why it is even more rewarding that in the end Eric's life is a beautiful lesson for humanity about redemption and forgiveness. It is an important book and one of the better ones I read in my life. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 1 January 2015
One man's account of the treatment he endured at the hands of the Japanese during the second world war, Eric Lomax does not dwell on the pain and inhumanity he suffered he just tells it as it was! An extraordinary story of resilience and hope, we all have an understanding of the atrocities carried out in the Time of conflict, but Eric has a way of letting you feel the lack of compassion that can arise between enemies when war raises it's ugly head.
What Eric also does so well is display man's ignorance towards the ex POW' s after their liberation, you get to feel the anguish and resentment towards his captors and the misinterpretation of feelings from his comrades.
I decided to read this book after I heard Rob Brydon mention on tv that this was the best book he had read, it might not be the most enjoyable read due to subject matter but it most certainly is a story that needs to be read, just so that people can get a better understanding of the help that is needed to enable ex POW' s and soldiers adapt back into civilian life.
An excellent book!
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on 28 November 2017
A man tells his personal experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore during WW2 including vivid descriptions of torture because he was discovered to note down details of trains. The Japanese had no understanding of train spotting as a hobby at that time. A wonderful read and an insight into what went on in a POW as well as a bit about Singapore and her people.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2014
I can't understand why anyone would give The Railway Man less than four stars. Perhaps some people were expecting a novel, with purple prose and dialogue, and all ends tied up. But life is not like that, and neither is this book. The reader should approach it for what it is, a very personal memoir, written not by a professional writer but by someone who is driven to know the truth and to record it. There may have been one or two 'boring' bits, but they are all necessary to the story. The style is very matter of fact, especially when one considers the horrors that are being described, but this just adds to the book's authenticity. It is clear that Lomax has a high regard for the truth, and strives to recall events as accurately as possible. For example, there are some things that happened to him that he cannot personally recall, but which other eye witnesses have told him about, and where this is the case he makes this clear.

Some have complained about the emphasis on steam railways, and have suggested that one need to be a railway buff to appreciate the book. I believe that anyone could enjoy this book; an interest in steam locomotives or a technical background are absolutely unnecessary. The book would have lost a great deal if Lomax's life-long passion and one of the things that helped him to endure such terrible experiences were to be edited out. One of the great things about books is their ability to take us into unfamiliar territory and to see life from someone else's point of view, so if you have no interest in railways perhaps this is a reason why this book really is for you.

I was perplexed when, at about 70% of the way through the book, the war ended and Lomax returned to Scotland. A long anti-climax seemed to loom ahead. However, the last part of the book is perhaps the most moving and intriguing part, so please don't stop at this point.

On a personal note, I had two uncles who took part in WWII. One was taken prisoner by the Japanese and worked on the Burma Railway, and the other was not. Reading this book has given me an idea as to why their personalities differed so greatly, and my memory of my uncle reinforces my belief that this is an excellent and honest book.
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on 19 October 2014
This is a remarkable story about Eric Lomax, a train buff who entered the army during WW2 and eventually was set to work on the worse train set of all time...the Burma railway. Mr Lomax was obviously a very intelligent man and the prose of the book is a statement to that fact as it is beautifully written. The author also comes across as being quite an ordinary man but his ordeal after his capture in Malaya at the hands of the Japanese is anything but that. After being involved in building a clandestine radio, its discovery led to Eric Lomax's brutal torture and incarceration, an all to common story as a FEPOW but this story has a remarkable twist in that Mr Lomax is apparently the only FEPOW who eventually met one of his main tormentors. This then is not only a story of untold brutality and of the lifelong suffering it entailed but one of reconciliation between good and evil. It is also a story of a very brave man who must have had an untold reservoir of mental fortitude but also a man of integrity and compassion. His eventual act of forgiveness is an example to us all in this troubled world.

I have also watched the film and it is worth comparing the book and the film. This is a great film and Colin Firth (Lomax) and Nicole Kidman (Patti-his 2nd wife) do a great job. The film is in the main accurate but it does get dramatised in places. There is no 'ambush' meeting between Lomax and his protagonist as portrayed in the film, they both eventually meet in real life after corresponding for a couple of years. The film also only covers up to the point that Lomax was tortured and not his incarceration for over a year in a squalid brutal Singapore jail. In fact this brave man endured far more than is portrayed in the film!

Overall a great and enthralling read but another damming indictment of the treatment of POW's by the IJA.
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on 21 August 2017
I came to this book with no prior knowledge of it. I found it an excellent read.For such an horrific account of the horrors suffered by Eric Lomax he would be forgiven for adding emotion to his writing, but there was none. By so doing he made these events so much more thought provoking, and I'm sure he minimised his description of some events. I loved his telling of the last file he was working on before being called up, and finding it untouched after the war nearly 10 years later, exactly as he lad left it. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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