This is a masterpiece of a book. Perhaps it is too long. Other than that it is perfect. The prose is delicate, sometimes exquisite, never flinching. The atmosphere is of endless sadness: human cruelty, futility, the desolation of mood pinpricked only by small acts of kindness of the few.
The story follows an Australian doctor, Dorrigo Evans, during the Second World War who finds himself a prisoner of war looking after the men building the Thailand to Burma railway for the Japanese. The mid section describing this is brutally described and very hard to read. He thinks often of his short-lived love affair with another man’s wife. The final section describes the aftermath as the war ends and the soldiers go home. Dorrigo’s life is empty in spite of family and material and professional success. There is something empty inside. There is some attempt to get into the mind of the Japanese and Korean guards, to understand how they could do such horrific things for their Emperor sun king.
If you are looking for an easy read this book is not it. If you are looking for the truth it might just be. It took me a long time to read not because I wasn’t enjoying it but because sometimes it was too hard to take.