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Now the Hell Will Start

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  327 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
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 Americ ...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published May 29th 2008 by Penguin Press (first published 2008)
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Herman Perry was a black GI during World War II forced to work building the Ledo Road—a 465 mile supply road from British occupied India through the jungles and mountains of Burma to Chiang Kai-shek's China (an ally of the U.S. against Japan) that took the length of the war to finish and had a 50% or higher mortality for its builders. The actual construction of the road was left to black GIs and local indentured servants from India and Burma whose ranks were continuous thinned by malaria
Nicholas Karpuk
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Fans, Those Interested In America's History On Race, Anyone Who Reads Non-Fiction
I'm a easy sell for a cool title or a awesome summary. I've bought many books off a compelling blurb on the back. "Now the Hell Will Start" has both.

Seriously, say that title aloud. How cool and compelling can a book title get? Combined with the somewhat bleak cover and the description of a black man fleeing through the jungles of Burma during World War 2, and it's a book I was willing to pay full price for in hardback.

The story of Herman Perry would have been fascinating all on its own, but Bre
Mbanga Ka
Jun 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like the zoot suit riot scene from "American Me," this book serves as a brutal and necessary rejoinder to myths about the greatest generation. In the protagonist Herman Perry, the author adds flesh, sweat, and bone to the nameless black GI lurking in the background of previous WWII narratives -- and although the book jacket depicts a story set in exotic locales, the real discovery is of a conveniently forgotten United States in which racism was allowed to compromise the war effort.
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It is best to use discretion when confronting an emotionally shattered man, especially if he's holding a semiautomatic weapon."

With this understated maxim, journalist Brendan Koerner begins perhaps the most phenomenal untold story of World War II. So phenomenal, in fact, that whenever I attempt to describe the book's plot to friends, they inevitably interrupt with, "Oh, I see – so it's a novel!" No, it's not a novel…

But I can understand why it's tough to reconcile the following plot with the re
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Think you're having a bad day?

Meet Herman Perry, an African-American World War II soldier who traversed the globe stuck in the bowels of a stinking ship and ended up in Burma where he endured back-breaking labor day in and day out as well as the Jim Crow policies of the time. To numb the pain, he starts smoking weed... and other stuff. Then he flat out loses his mind.

Then the fun really starts.

Some have criticized Brendan Koerner for throwing in "too much filler." I didn't find that to be the
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are sequences that made my eyes glaze over a bit (i.e. the entire history of the Ledo road), but every aspect that dealt with Herman Perry's life is incredibly interesting and make the book well worth it. A young black soldier who killed a white soldier during WWII in Burma, Perry eluded capture and managed to survive amongst a cantankerous xenophobic tribe that took pride in the number of heads they cut from their enemies.

Truly interesting read!!
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Leonard Lopate interview
Shelves: law
The opening sentence:

"It is best to use discretion when confronting an emotionally shattered man, especially if he's holding a semiautomatic rifle."

Words to live by.

This is a fascinating book--a mixture of a biography of a black soldier who fled arrest and married the daughter of a headhunter chief, and the two manhunts for him, and also the story of the Ledo Road, an amazing feat of engineering in WWII that the monsoons destroyed just as soon as the war ended.
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone loving historical adventures.
Shelves: war
A true story of a WW II Black G.I, Herman Perry who is sent to Burma to build a road to China for Chiang Kai-shek. Perry endures nightmarish hardships including 16 hr days of breaking rocks under intense heat, malaria, leaches, and racism that push him to murder a overbearing and abusive white Lieutenant. To escape a trial and certain death sentence, Perry flees to the dense jungle of Burma and settles in with a tribe of savage headhunters.

I had heard of the Burma road before and knew it was bui
Jul 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is billed as "The greatest manhunt of World War II." If it is, I guess we'll need to look to another war for a good manhunt story. This book is so padded you could use it for a pillow, which you'll need when you fall asleep reading it. The alleged "manhunt" doesn't start till about page 140 (of 330) and only crops up periodically thereafter. The rest of the book is filled with every imaginable tangential detail the author could find. My favorite example: Perry, the hunted man, is suspe ...more
Jun 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history, maps
I found this story compelling, but I felt like the book was padded.

The main story about Herman Perry is interesting in itself, but it seemed there wasn't enough material to fill a 300-page book. The book covered a lot of information about Sino-American relations during WWII and the building of the Ledo Road. Both of these topic merit (and I'm sure have been covered by) books in their own right. It was interesting to learn about these topics, but I felt they were incorporated into the main story
Aug 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most interesting and captivating books that I've had the pleasure of reading in a long time. The story follows three narratives: the blatant racism that crippled the Army during WWII; the little-known U.S efforts to construct a supply road from Burma to China; and the story of Herman Perry, an African-American road engineer who, under pressure, killed a white officer and then fled into the jungle. As a disclaimer- this type of book (historical biographies of lesser known indiv ...more
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A story of Black Man (playboy/hustler/blue collar worker) from Washington D.C. who generated the largest manhunt in World War 2 for a fugitive. He went on to live like royalty in isolated primitive tribal areas of Burma. Even fathering a child by the chiefs daughter. Something that Army brass considered impossible for the mentally inferior Black soldiers of time to accomplish..after all he would have to learn the language, customs, survival skills that would surely be more than he could handle. ...more
Sep 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i thought this was an excellent book describing the terrible treatment of blacks during world war II. it is the real life story of herman perry, a southern gent who moved to the good ol' nation's capital!! the author describes mr. perry' early life in the south, his migration north and his time in the military. while in the army, he and his fellow black soldiers endured what many of us cannot - horrible living and working conditions, being treated like animals and the list continues...

i don't wa
Jeff Brailey
Jul 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brendan I. Koerner's historical work is as intersting to read as it is enlightening. While telling the story of Herman Perry, an African American soldier who murdered a white officer, Koerner reveals the gross injustice perpetrated by the segrated system of the US military in WWII.

If you were in the Army after it was integrated and are not aware of this history, you will be shocked. If you were in WWII and were part of this system, you will feel shame. Either way, this is an important read that
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was awesome...wonderfully researched expose of not only the Army's treatment of black soldiers in the Pacific front, but also a fantastic narrative of a true "fugitive", this is the Dr. Kimball story that should have been on TV.

You have your race issues, Army boondoggle projects, grand scale war-politicking among the US and China, all happening as a backdrop to this great story of one man's effort to find peace with a truly untenable set of circumstances.

This is the best book I have re
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most heartbreaking stories I've ever read. I get the sense that the author has a reverence for Perry's story, and honors it as best he can, as he weaves it through a meticulously constructed sociopolitical context. This is not an "action-packed, fugitive story"(and I hope Mr. Spike Lee doesn't turn it into that), but rather, a people's history. A spectacular read.
You would think given the subject that this would be a great read: DC native pulled into the Jim Crow Army of WW2. Goes off to the steaming jungles of Asia to do manual labor; has altercations a plenty; steals, smokes dope, has wild sex, etc, etc...yet it left me flat. If it comes out on tape I my give it another shot but the writing left me cold.
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gripping narrative and an indictment of the military hierarchy that marginalized African-American soldiers that's sharp enough to cut but not strident. A fascinating look at "the forgotten campaign."
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know Brendan; we have some mutual friends. So this is a mildly biased review. But still I highly recommend the book. Powerful details--especially about the practice of heading hunting--and a read-in-one-night narrative.
Jul 05, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended in article in the Village Voice:
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an interesting choice for a topic. Herman Perry was a homesick, drug-using soldier in the CBI theater (China-Burma-India) in World War II who fragged an officer coming to arrest him and ran off into the jungles of Assam.

Perry was only 20 when he was drafted and had been living in Washington DC with his mothers and his brothers. One of his brothers, Aaron, became a fairly successful boxer although possibly due to what happend to Herman unraveled and eventually wound up in prison. Perry had
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
Jan 24, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What to say?

My biggest complaint is the writing, which is scattered and bloated with irrelevant details. Despite the endless digressions the period history is remarkably shallow, conveying almost nothing of the realities of Jim Crow in favor of generic observations that Negroes were poor and oppressed at the time and a fetishistic obsession with connecting the narrative to Jesse Helms' father, to Franklin Roosevelt's mild civil rights agenda, to Langston Hughes' time in the U Street corridor of
Hannah Reiser
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The purpose of this book is to tell the stories of the past so that we know, and understand what went wrong in solving it, or how it happened in the first place so that we never repeat it again. He is telling us what the searchers did wrong and letting us know how we, today, can avoid those mistakes when a similar situation arises.
The theme of the book is that you never know how things could turn out. After all the abuse that Perry took, the officers not knowing the true emotional strain on the
Chris Farrell
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a totally riveting book about American involvement in the China-Burma-India theater of WWII, the great migration, and the ongoing cruelties of white supremacy.

In our histories, WWII tends get whitewashed, especially post-Reagan: the incompetent commanders, the lives wasted to stupidity, the organizational failings of the armed forces, and the virulent racism that was baked into US culture. Although this book was published in 2008, it could not be more relevant now as a spotlight is being
May 29, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting to love this book more than I did. I ended up admiring more than enjoying it. I think mostly because Perry's time as a fugitive didn't last as long and involve as much as I expected. Still, it was a weird little adventure he had between his crime and his execution.

His overall story, from his background in North Carolina and Washington DC up through the misery the 849th Engineer Aviation Battalion in the China-Burma-India theater (CBI), is, while interesting in itself, more impor
Naomi House
Jul 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read 90% of the book and loved it. I tend not to finish non-fiction for some reason. I found this book because Brendan Koerner did a guest blogging stint on Ta-Nehisi Coates website and I found his writing and civil justice causes intriguing and the book is full of passionate prose. No worries, the author clearly makes his case and his opinions known. A true story with touches of Heart of Darkness Herman Perry's plight and the untold stories and fronts that many African-American WWII soldiers ...more
Jun 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a really good story, told pretty well. It is narrative non-fiction, and some of the really interesting parts about racial descrimination in the 1940s and in the military in WWII are fascinating, although they bog down a little for some reason. I don't know. I am really glad I read this book, after the first 100 pages the pace really picks up. I enjoyed it and feel like I learned a lot. I would also have changed the sequence of the last two or three chapters, because the story would have ...more
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started to bail on this, but I stuck it out because quitting is for losers. I thought the story seemed very interesting, and I really, really liked the author's other, more recent book, but this is just not very good. There's not much to the main story, I guess because it took place so long ago and it wasn't well documented in the first place, and much of the rest of this, like 70% maybe, is made up of the dreadfully boring story of the construction of a road near the China-India border, the l ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I had some problems taking this work of non-fiction seriously beginning with a footnote claiming that a tiger attack had permanently turned the victim's hair white. My patience was further strained by heavy-handed phrases like "Calcutta, that notorious hive of scum and villainy", and I skipped about three 15-page chunks towards the end. The story itself, however, is a fascinating one. The jacket marketing puts the focus on the epic manhunt for Herman Perry, a black WWII deserter, but the author ...more
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