Synopses & Reviews
Part history, part thriller, Now the Hell Will
Start tells the astonishing tale of Herman Perry, the soldier who sparked the greatest manhunt of World War II and who became that war's unlikeliest folk hero.
A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, Now the Hell Will Start tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding playboy from the streets of Washington, D.C., who wound up going native in the Indo-Burmese junglenot 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 downan 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 blissand 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 ghosta 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 herowhom 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.
"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. Koerner's engrossing story illuminates one of WWII's fiascos as well as the disgraceful treatment of black soldiers during that era. Photos. (June 2)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[F]ew 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." Kirkus Reviews
"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
"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
A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, this work tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding playboy who winds up in the Indo-Burmese jungle not for adventure, but rather to escape the greatest manhunt conducted by the U.S. Army during World War II.
An epic saga of hubris , cruelty, and redemption, Now the Hell Will Start
tells the remarkable tale of the greatest manhunt of World War II. Herman Perry, besieged by the hardships of the Indo-Burmese jungle and the racism meted out by his white commanding officers, found solace in opium and marijuana. But on one fateful day, Perry shot his unarmed white lieutenant in the throes of an emotional collapse and fled into the jungle.
Brendan I. Koerner spent nearly five years chasing Perry's ghost to the most remote corners of India and Burma. Along the way, he uncovered the forgotten story of the Ledo Road's GIs, for whom Jim Crow was as powerful an enemy as the Japanese-and for whom Herman Perry, dubbed the jungle king, became an unlikely folk hero.
About the Author
A contributing editor at Wired whose work appears regularly in The New York Times and Slate, Brendan I. Koerner was named one of Columbia Journalism Reviewandrsquo;s Ten Young Writers on the Rise. For more information on Now the Hell Will Start, visit www.nowthehellwillstart.com.