Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pg. 99: Brendan I. Koerner's "Now the Hell Will Start"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Brendan I. Koerner 's Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

About the book, from the publisher:
A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, Now the Hell Will Start tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding Romeo from the streets of Washington, D.C., who wound up going native in the Indo-Burmese jungle—not because he yearned for adventure, but rather to escape the greatest manhunt conducted by the United States Army during World War II.

An African American G.I. assigned to a segregated labor battalion, Perry was shipped to South Asia in 1943, enduring unspeakable hardships while sailing around the globe. He was one of thousands of black soldiers dispatched to build the Ledo Road, a highway meant to appease China’s conniving dictator, Chiang Kai-shek. Stretching from the thickly forested mountains of northeast India across the tiger-infested vales of Burma, the road was a lethal nightmare, beset by monsoons, malaria, and insects that chewed men’s flesh to pulp.

Perry could not endure the jungle’s brutality, nor the racist treatment meted out by his white officers. He found solace in opium and marijuana, which further warped his fraying psyche. Finally, on March 5, 1944, he broke down—an emotional collapse that ended with him shooting an unarmed white lieutenant.

So began Perry’s flight through the Indo-Burmese wilderness, one of the planet’s most hostile realms. While the military police combed the brothels of Calcutta, Perry trekked through the jungle, eventually stumbling upon a village festooned with polished human skulls. It was here, amid a tribe of elaborately tattooed headhunters, that Herman Perry would find bliss—and would marry the chief ’s fourteen-year-old daughter.

Starting off with nothing more than a ten-word snippet culled from an obscure bibliography, Brendan I. Koerner spent nearly five years chasing Perry’s ghost—a pursuit that eventually led him to the remotest corners of India and Burma, where drug runners and ethnic militias now hold sway. Along the way, Koerner uncovered the forgotten story of the Ledo Road’s black G.I.s, for whom Jim Crow was as virulent an enemy as the Japanese. Many of these troops revered the elusive Perry as a folk hero—whom they named the Jungle King.

Sweeping from North Carolina’s Depression-era cotton fields all the way to the Himalayas, Now the Hell Will Start is an epic saga of hubris, cruelty, and redemption. Yet it is also an exhilarating thriller, a cat-and-mouse yarn that dazzles and haunts.
Among the early acclaim for Now the Hell Will Start:
"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 Harm’s Way

"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."
—George Pelecanos

"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
Visit the Now the Hell Will Start website and Brendan I. Koerner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Now the Hell Will Start.

--Marshal Zeringue