Australian doctor Dorrigo Evans is forced to work on the Burma Railway while held as a POW in WWII
✎ This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon. It is about his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, his loves, his affairs and his old age.
The central event is Dorrigo’s time in the prisoner of war camp, working on the Burma death railway, as it was known. Dorrigo is a colonel and surgeon, and is acknowledged as the leader of the Australian prisoners.
The author’s father was a prisoner in Burma and this book is dedicated to him and acknowledgment of the horrific experiences that make up his past. There were up to 13,000 Australians imprisoned in Burma, who were worked literally to death to complete the Emperor’s dream of a railroad linking Thailand and Burma. The prisoners walked seven miles each way through the jungle before the start work and if they fall to their knees to crawl or just to die, they were beaten viciously. These atrocities are detailed in this book, as are the medical and surgical care Dorrigo undertakes without the right tools or medications. There are many pages that are not for the faint hearted.
After the war Dorrigo is searching for meaning. He marries one woman, has affairs with others. He has a successful career but an empty heart. There are many revelations about him, his life, his family and even stories about what happened post war to the soldiers who beat them on the railroad.
It was a fabled railway that was the issue of desperation and fanaticism, made as much of myth and unreality as it was to be of wood and iron and the thousands upon thousands of lives that were to be laid down over the next year to build it. But what reality was ever made by realists?
✎ “Evocative, lovely, terrifying, disturbing. Similar to how I felt after reading the about walk to Dunkirk in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I felt I could hold my own in a conversation with fellow prisoners about life in a Japanese PoW camp after reading this story (“Yes I remember Barry, the medical tent was *very* basic wasn’t it….” etc). As a reader we weren’t observing the story from afar, we were there experiencing every horrible moment.” – Suzy
✎ “What a heart wrenching and deeply moving story. Not only it is beautifully crafted, it was a real pull on the emotions. The raw truth of PoW camps, alongside a touching love story, and education about a moment in history are all contained in this one book. It sounds crazy but I would lift my head from these pages and think “oh that ‘s right, I am here, not in a PoW camp,” my heart thumping, so entrenched in the story was I. I will never forget this book.” – Rachel