August 3, 2010

Miracle on the River Kwai

I came across this book by accident. I had finished the one I brought with me and was looking through the bookshelves of the holiday house we were staying in. There was a lack of novels – mainly dictionaries (a lot of dictionaries, why would you need so many?) and encyclopedias. Tucked in amongst a couple of large history books was a thin paper back – Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon (I found out it has been re released with a new title To End All Wars). This is the story of a Scottish solider and his time in the POW camps in Singapore and East Asia during WWII. The horrors are unimaginable and its amazing to think that anyone was able to escape from the camps alive, especially after 3 years.

What is amazing is the spiritual revival that he describes in the camps. There are two in particular that Ernest describes. How the prisoners turn from ‘inhuman beasts’ who plunder the dead, ignore the sick, act in self interest, seek death as a relief begin to slowly care for each other. They work to create meaning in their lives – creating an orchestra out of thin air (and bamboo), having church services, caring for the sick, starting a university.
And Gordon credits this change to an understanding within the camp that people are created not to be served, but to serve and find hope in Christ who understands what it is to suffer.

Of course it’s still a sobering read, most of his friends that he mentions throughout the book are not there at the end. And the epilogue is especially sad because he comes back to a Britain that doesn’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the war. People are just as self centred as when he left. Many of the POW’s who came to faith in the camps are disillusioned by the well meaning but old fashioned churches they find on their return.
I liked that this book told a different story of the war. One I hadn’t really heard before. Of course I knew about the POW camps, we visited Changi when we were in Singapore – but something about reading a book makes it more personal. And while Gordon doesn’t gloss over the horror, he does paint an optimistic, eternal perspective.

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