Now the Hell Will Start:
One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II
Brendan I. Koerner
The Penguin Press
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". . . World War II from an African-American soldier’s perspective."
In Now the Hell Will Start, Brendan I. Koerner writes about World War II from an African-American soldier’s perspective. The book reads like a novel as it follows Herman Perry from the Jim Crow South into a segregated military. He fights in Europe, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and in the forgotten theater of WWII, China-Burma-India.
Perry was drafted into the Army, assigned to an engineering battalion and trained to build airstrips. He wound up working in Burma with other black Americans to build the Ledo Road, a supply route for China's Chiang Kai-shek whose military was supposed to help the Allies defeat the Japanese. Koerner’s descriptions of the Army’s infighting and policy snafus regarding the jungle road are similar to other war stories. What sets Now the Hell Will Start apart from other books on the war is Perry’s story.
Most of us are familiar with Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act. However, readers who were born after 1945 will gain a better understanding of how monumental those civil rights victories were after learning about the truly awful, shameful second-class treatment endured by Perry and his band of black brothers.
Life in the jungle was so difficult and unjust that Perry turned to drugs for comfort and eventually cracked under the pressure. One day, facing incarceration in the stockade for failing to report to duty, he shot and killed the arresting officer then fled into the jungle. While on the lam, Perry made a new life for himself in a native village. There he found the power, respect, and dignity unavailable to most black Americans in the mid-20th century. Although he missed his family and girlfriend back home in Washington, D.C., Perry described his situation in the jungle as, “Not a bad life.” The Army, of course, could not allow Perry to remain free. He had to be brought to justice so other soldiers would not follow his example and disrupt military order.
Koerner relates the tale of the massive manhunt for Perry with the same storytelling skill he applies to the civil rights saga, military strategy, and Perry’s tragic biography. This is a story that needed to be told, and Koerner presents it very well.
Reviewer: Laureen Gibson Gilroy