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The Railway Man by Eric Lomax

by Venky

Railway ManThe “Railway Man” is a searing autobiography of anguish and acceptance. This savage and emotional book initially rends asunder any shred of faith placed on humanity before finally restoring it by assuaging that such trust does not represent misplaced confidence. Although quite unsettling in parts, “The Railway Man” is a book to be read, remembered and revered!

Eric Lomax, an enthusiastic young man and an avid railway enthusiast growing up in Edinburgh is sucked into the cauldron of the catastrophe that is World War II when he volunteers for military service. Initially posted in the “impenetrable fortress” of Singapore, Lomax is captured by a rampaging Japanese army and taken to work in the infamous Burma-Siam Railway in a Prisoner Of War (“POW”) camp. A bunch of egregious POW along with Lomax scour the camp for discarded electronic and other parts and scrape together a makeshift radio set. The pioneer of this project is Lance Thew a telecommunications fanatic. This radio provides a much required succour to the POWs from the everyday grind of the unforgiving camp whose activities are now set to coincide with the clock in Japan. However as ill luck would have it, due to a combination of treachery and fate, the Japanese discover the radio set in Thew’s quarters and they swoop in on 6 unfortunate POWs including Eric Lomax alleging activities amounting to treason and illegitimacy.

What follows next is a harrowing sequence of unimaginable cruelty as the alleged criminals are brutalised by the Japanese by employing methods that even put the word barbaric to utter shame. The helpless prisoners are made to stand in one position and in one spot for more than a staggering one hundred hours before a gang of drunken brutes beat the living daylights out of them with clubs and other assorted weapons. The battered prisoners are then transferred to an abominable, filthy and murderous prison camp termed Outram Road. Lomax and his fellow POWs shrink, shrivel and shudder as they are deprived of food and water. The Japanese atrocities however come to an unexpected and shuddering end with the explosion of the two destructive atomic bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Lomax, back in England however cannot get rid himself of the horrors of the War in general and his captivity in particular. Racked by nightmares he finds himself waking up in cold sweat and dread on a regular basis. More than everything he cannot obliterate from his mind’s eye the face of a Japanese interpreter who keeps translating his superior’s questions when Lomax is being tortured and interrogated. When a chance correspondence with a fellow war veteran leads Lomax to the whereabouts of Mr.Nagashe the interpreter, the lives of both the protagonists of war take a tumultuous turn.

Eric Lomax’s book bristles with emotions and is a roller coaster ride that has as its occupants revenge, reticence, and reconciliation. The ebb and flow of feelings as the story unravels to first take on a macabre tint, then coursing through mayhem before finally climaxing into a crescendo of hope and salvation. As the attributes of vengeance and violence are replaced by calmer tenets of acceptance, forgiveness and repentance, the book takes on a totally beautiful hue and colour. The description of the fateful meeting of Nagashe and Lomax after years of restlessness as each man seeks closure in his own inimitable way, grips the reader in veritable thrall. Lomax has done yeoman service to mankind with this beautiful work as he demonstrates the value and importance of kindness in a breathtakingly beautiful manner. Lomax also provides ample testimony to the beautiful adage that “Hope Springs Eternal”.

“The Railway Man” – A celebration of redemption!

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