I very nearly gave up on this book in the early stages. The true life of a train spotter is the absolute antithesis of my choice of read. I was encouraged to persevere by the members of my book group and the book certainly improved once Eric Lomax left his home and travelled as a young signals officer to Malaya, where he is eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese.
Initially Eric and his friends are protected from the worst treatment by their knowledge of mechanics. They are put to work repairing the machinery used to construct the Burma/Siam railway. They have certain freedoms, being able to wander the island, from which there is no escape, and purchase fruit and veg to supplement their prison rations. Naturally they are desperate for news from the rest of the world and manage to construct a radio set from bits and pieces. Although it is dismantled after every use and the constituent parts hidden from sight, the Japanese somehow learn of its existence and the six mechanics are treated brutally. Two die from the beatings and Eric Lomax is so severely bruised that his whole body is black and both wrists are broken. Eric is also found to have a map of the area and this creates additional suspicions amongst the Japanese, who question him endlessly, with more beatings and semi drownings in an attempt to extract information that he does not have.
The survivors are taken to Outram prison, where they are fed just two bowls of rice a day. Disease is rife and many died. Eric survives by taking a chance and convincing the warders that he is severely ill. He is transferred to the hospital section of the notorious Changi prison, heaven in comparison to Outram.
After the war there was no treatment for sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, it was not known that the effects of torture could have long lasting consequences and survivors were expected to assimilate back into 'normal' life. Inevitably Eric suffers from nightmares, but also from an inability to express emotions and give of himself. He has survived by becoming very closed and withholding emotion and this has altered his personality. Fifty years later he receives the help he so desperately needed to deal with the effects of his abuse.
The final chapter sees Eric confronting the interpreter who had been present for the endless days of questioning. This man had been the centre of the hate he felt for the Japanese and the meeting of the two provides some closure for Eric Lomax's sufferings.
Not an easy read, not just for the train-spotting, but also for the harrowing abuse. It was, however, an eye-opener about life for the prisoners of war under the Japanese. The struggles of a survivor to readjust to life after war also made for interesting reading. A worthy contribution to WWII literature that will become part of the documentation for generations to come.
All respect to Eric Lomax