The Railway Man: A True Story of War, Remembrance, and Forgiveness,by Eric Lomax (Ballantine, 276 pp.; $12, paper). Reviewed by Eric Metaxas, a writer whose work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, Books & Culture, and other publications.
Eric Lomax's The Railway Man is a curious book, not least because it connects two things that are wildly and absurdly incongruous: trains and torture. But as one reads along, one sees that in the life of this son of Scotland the congruity between them was especially, terribly tangible.
Lomax grew up near Edinburgh between the wars, and during his childhood, which marked the twilight of steam power, he developed a singularly powerful affection for trains, often riding his bicycle for hours merely to catch a glimpse of a particularly worthy engine. His writing about trains betrays this affection and can be strangely heartbreaking: "We have never created any sound so evocative of separation as the whistle of a steam locomotive, that high note of inhuman relief as vaporized water is blown off and meets the cold air." There is a profound sadness in that sentence, and behind others as well: "That explosive, rhythmic sound we call puffing says more to us about getting under way, about departure, than a petrol-driven snarl can ever do: perhaps it has something close to the beat of our pulse."
It struck me early in his book that the man who wrote these sentences must possess a well of sadness within him, that their simple and poetic poignancy must have been born of some brokenness and suffering. How else might someone make the sound of a train seem so particularly mournful? And reading further one is soon struck by the awful and unfathomable depth of that well.
Early on ...1