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Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World WarII

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594201738
ISBN-10: 1594201730
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

" Koerner's gripping account of a little-known manhunt details the brutality of jungle life while also illuminating larger issues of race and prejudice during the war."
- Entertainment Weekly

" Remarkable . . . Koerner has done a great deal of digging into obscure corners of dusty records and has managed to reconstruct a tale well worth telling."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book Review

" A fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure."
-George Pelacanos --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Booklist

Segregation is the context for Koerner’s biography of Herman Perry, and the Burma theater of World War II is the stage. Shipped to Asia with thousands of black American draftees to build the Ledo Road, Perry generated considerable documentation in his short life, and Koerner fully capitalizes on it. Producing a riveting personal drama, Koerner glimpses Perry’s essentially ebullient personality forming in the Jim Crow world but rebelling against its army version on the other side of the world. Not glossing over Perry’s transgressions of military discipline, one of which was a capital offense at the tragic heart of the narrative, Koerner solidly anchors them in their emotionally stressful context of miserable road construction in a pestilent jungle amid contemptuous treatment from some white officers. There were two extraordinary consequences of Perry’s central misdeed: his court-martial, whose procedures Koerner critiques, and beforehand, Perry’s escape and year-long survival in the Burmese wilds as an adoptive member of the Naga people. With arresting pacing and empathy for its participants, Koerner’s skillful rendering of the Perry saga exerts certain appeal for the WWII audience. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (May 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201738
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,523,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary Brumley on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I first heard of this book when I read a small blurb about it in Newsweek. Being an armchair World War II historian, I have read many books about the war, but knew very little beyond the basics of the war in the China/India/Burma theater. I was interested to know more. However, the main reason I read this book is because I love a good adventure story, especially a true one. Truth is almost always stranger than fiction, and this book illustrates that perfectly.

The author paints a colorful portrait of Perry, his mind-set, and the colliding factors of war, poverty, crime, and racial discrimination that land Perry in the worst situation possible. Though Perry suffered more than most people could imagine and perhaps was justified in his crime, the author does not paint Perry as a saint. Perry had big problems and made some wrong decisions. The reader is left to wonder how he would react in the same situation.

The other character in this book is the jungle itself. The jungle is so real, so tangible, so deadly that it becomes almost a sentient being. The jungle is unstoppable in its ability to grind machines and equipment to rust and rubble and suck the life out of the men who came to work there. It shows no mercy and exists without pity. Contending with the Japanese was preferrable than contending with the jungle. The author treats the jungle not just as the setting of the story, but as one of the cast.

Make no mistake; this book is the story of a tragedy. Nobody wins, except the jungle.

There were some elements of writing style which bothered me a bit. At times, some of the language seems like it has a bit too much pop culture infused into it. The book doesn't suffer much from it, but it is something that I noticed at times.
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Format: Hardcover
Among the many strange and sad tales of World War II, one of the most peculiar ones is that of Private Herman Perry, who died in the jungles of Burma, one of the Americans sent there for the expensive and doomed Ledo Road that was to link India and China. Perhaps his story has been forgotten because of the futility of that particular expedition; perhaps it was because Perry was executed as a murderer; perhaps it is because his story is part of the shameful Jim Crow attitude of the Army, and of the nation, at that time. Whatever the reason, there are many important aspects of history surrounding Perry's story, and Brendan I. Koerner has done an admirable job covering a previously untold story in _Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II_ (Penguin Press). Although Koerner has written most extensively on technology, he was researching military executions when he came across Perry's story, and became obsessed with telling it. He has produced an insightful book of history, in addition to telling Perry's sad and forgotten tale.

Perry was drafted after Pearl Harbor, but there was a delay in his entry because the Army didn't have enough segregated facilities to train black enlistees. He was one of the fifteen thousand American troops assigned to Burma to build the Ledo Road, whose ostensible purpose was to keep supplies flowing into America's Chinese Allies. Perry and the other soldiers worked sixteen hours a day. They got rations of corned beef and rice, and water with bacteria in it. Most of them got malaria. They fought off leeches and lice. Some were mauled by tigers. Perry's carefree disposition would not last in such an environment. He shot and killed a Lt.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I thought this book was the perfect combination of suspenseful and informative. It provided me with a clear understanding of the role of African Americans in World War II, Army policy relating to African American conscripts, the Allied actions in China, Burma, and India, and then of course Herman Perry, the soldier the book is about.

The book is an excellent and well-written thriller (despite being non-fiction), but more than anything, it is an eye-opening look at the treatment of blacks in the American Army at the time. A lot of the well-known literature on this subject relates to the Harlem Hellfighters (infantry) or the Tuskegee Airmen (pilots), but "Now the Hell Will Start" discusses the Jim Crow mentality of the Army and the fact that the overwhelming majority of black men in the military were relegated to manual labor, since they were deemed unfit for combat due to the racist science of the time that suggested blacks were mentally incapable of handling anything else.

The book is also an excellent introduction to the Burmese jungle, which I previously knew nothing about. The author explains the role of Burma, China, and India in World War II, and Herman Perry was deployed to Burma to work on building a road that ultimately ended up being mostly pointless. I found the detail about the perils of the Burmese jungles and the monsoon season to be both fascinating and horrifying.

Some people have claimed that this book paints Herman Perry in a sympathetic light despite the fact that he killed an officer. While I agree that he was painted in a sympathetic light, I do think it is warranted.
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