Her last book was As the Hague Ordains, a novel about POW conditions in Japan in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. “The Railway Man” is based on a true story of Japanese treatment of a British Army officer captured in Singapore during World War II. Together, they present a sharp contrast.
Eliza was in the Far East when the war between Japan and Russia broke out. She was curious about the issue of POWs because of new international accords, adopted in 1899, governing humane treatment of war captives. To investigate the situation, Eliza got permission from Japan’s War Ministry to visit sites where Russian prisoners were being held. She found the treatment of POWs exemplary.
She had planned to write a magazine article but said she had trouble reducing the complex issue to a short piece. So she turned her findings into a novel. The book purports to be the journal of a Russian officer’s wife who goes to the bedside of her wounded husband in Japan. The book is set in Matsuyama, one of the prison sites Eliza visited.
“The Railway Man” takes place 40 years later. The main character, Eric Lomax, is one of thousands of Allied POWs sent to help build the Thai/Burma railway under hellhole conditions. He cobbles together a secret radio to bring news and hope to his colleagues. When it’s discovered, he’s accused of being a spy and brutally tortured.
Back home in Scotland, the experience has left him traumatized, threatening a late-in-life marriage that offers a chance at happiness. After learning that the young Japanese officer who tormented him is still alive, Eric sets out to confront him.
Not an easy movie to watch, but a compelling story of human drama and historical insight.