- 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: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,921,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World WarII
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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
Journalist Koerner recounts an obscure 1944 murder whose story is linked to the building of the Ledo Road, a massive and ultimately useless American project that linked India to Chinese forces. Most African- American soldiers spent WWII doing menial jobs. One man, Herman Perry, was shipped to northeast India to work on the Ledo Road. The labor was backbreaking; with rudimentary living conditions and no access to most recreation facilities, blacks had few pleasures besides drugs. Psychologically fragile, Perry had already been jailed for disobedience when he wandered off, carrying a rifle. When a white lieutenant grabbed it, Perry shot him and ran into the jungle, eventually reaching a village of Naga tribesmen. Pleased by gifts of canned food, they allowed him to stay, and he reinforced this welcome by stealing from the builders camp only six miles away. He married a local woman, but after three months, word of his presence filtered out; he was captured by Americans, tried and hung. Koerners engrossing story illuminates one of WWIIs fiascos as well as the disgraceful treatment of black soldiers during that era.
Compelling niche history about a black soldier who murdered his lieutenant then fled into the Burmese jungle during World War II.
Journalist and first-time author Koerner has unearthed a minor treasure in the criminal records of Herman Perry, a meat cutter drafted in 1943. Since military leaders considered African- Americans unfit for combat, Perry was shipped to India in 1944 to join 15,000 mostly black laborers building the Ledo Road, an immense project extending nearly 500 miles through mountainous jungles to China. Working conditions were nightmarish. The project had low priority, so supplies and food were inadequate, and black troops received the worst. Amenities, R&R facilities and even brothels were off limits. Morale under white officers was terrible. Miserable and depressed, Perry had already served one stockade sentence and found himself threatened with another when, on March 5, 1944, he lost control, murdered an overbearing white officer and fled. Believing that blacks were sexually ravenous, his pursuers focused the subsequent manhunt on brothels in distant Calcutta. Meanwhile, Perry stumbled through the jungle into a village of the Nagas, a primitive tribe of headhunters who occasionally traded with the soldiers. Won over by a few gifts and the supplies he stole from construction sites less than ten miles away, the tribe accepted him. Perry married the chiefs 14-year-old daughter and settled in, but rumors of a Negro living in the jungle eventually filtered out, and a patrol arrested him. Shortly before his death sentence was confirmed, he escaped and spent two months frantically trying to reach his village before being captured and hung. The long description of his trial may offer more information than most readers want, but few will be unmoved by the stinging depiction of Perry struggling to live first in an oppressively racist society, then in an army whose leaders considered him subhuman. Gripping and cringe-inducing.
Now the Hell Will Start is a fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure.
"Now the Hell Will Start is a dazzling look at a heretofore unseen and untold drama of WWII. Koerner takes us inside the Burmese jungle, where tigers and headhunters roam, and into the mind of an American, marooned by injustice, who struggles to survive as a man without a country. As Koerner points out, the hero of his tale, the pursued Herman Perry, may have just been the world's first hippie, certainly a father to Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Koerner is a startling writer of great humanity and a driving sense of plot, and this tale of survival and race enlarges our sense of American history."
--Doug Stanton, author of In Harms Way
"Koerner wandered into the jungles of Burma in search of a fugitive whose name indeed was buried in time. What he has come out with is a first-rate portrait of muscle and bone and soul."
--Charlie LeDuff, author of US Guys
Brendan Koerner's Now the Hell Will Start rockets you from the WWII jungles of southeast Asia, to the streets of Washington DC, in a meticulously crafted narrative so wild it must be true. With a painstaking eye for detail, and the kind of prose that edges truth into art, Koerner's one of those journalists who nearly makes fiction irrelevant.
--David Matthews, author of Ace of Spades --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
men northward on transportation routes commonly called 'The Burma Road' even though
it is moe involved as this boook clearly shows. A close friend of my family fought
and slogged his way up those dangerous narrow paths and I grew up hearing many
experiences from him. The cost in lives of our troops and those of allies was
incredible. It was a race to set up defenses against the Japanese who were on
their way to the conquest of critical aress where they could assure success
against a wide area including India, Australia, and many points between.
To make it more horrible for the Allies was a hodge-podge of tribal rivalry,
poor communications, tropical diseases, and a complex mix of racial attiitdes.
Sometimes you can seem to 'feel' the hopeless fatigue and danger, and want to
lay the book aside. Again and again I would see that the veteran who had told
me what it was like and what it had done to his health never exaggerated. I
felt I had to complete the book in his memory. There was no easy campaigns
but from years of research I know of no where the deck was stacked against
our forces in so many diverse ways. The author honored the saga by writing
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. The disparities between the treatment of white soldiers and black soldiers were glaring, particularly with regard to soldiers who exhibited any degree of mental instability, as Herman Perry did. This combined with the fact that everyone (white or black) working in China, Burma, and India was essentially ignored by the Army brass made me wonder why more people did not end up in the same situation.
I definitely recommend this book, though the descriptions of life in the Burmese jungle are not for the faint of heart.
Also, I bought this book on the Kindle. I found that the footnote links worked well and that the pictures (there were only a few) were easy to see on my black-and-white Kindle. There were a lot of missing spaces, though - so every few pages some words were combined. Otherwise a good book to read in the Kindle format.