For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America's first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history. The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: 41 months of captivity, starvation rations, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, and torture---far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur. The Normans bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy turned sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world. Juxtaposed against Steele's story and the sobering tale of the Death March and its aftermath is the story of a number of Japanese soldiers. The result is an altogether new and original World War II book: it exposes the myths of military heroism as shallow and inadequate; and it makes clear, with great literary and human power, that war causes suffering for people on all sides.More
On April 9, 1942, more than 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers on the island of Batan surrendered to the Japanese, who set them walking 66 miles to prison camp, a notorious walk that came to be known as "The Bataan Death March". Their surrender meant defeat in the first major land battle for America in World War II. Tears in the Darkness, the result of 10 years' research and interviews, weaves a strikingly vivid tapestry of voices from all sides to bring this crucial episode to life. Its central narrative traces new Army Air Corp recruit Ben Steele from his cowboy upbringing in Montana to his shattering experience as a prisoner of war. From this quintessential American tale, other individual stories including those of Filipinos and the Japanese hang together, fleshing out the narrative and providing a remarkably rounded account. This balance is an important part of the book; although there are many detailed descriptions of the inhuman acts committed against prisoners, the authors treat the Japanese with sympathy and respect.
Michael Pritchard's delivery encompasses the campfire setting of Steele's Montana youth equally as well as the General Masaharu Homma's addresses to his Japanese troops, or the harrowing descriptions of the execution of surrendered captives. Pritchard's audiobook credits include titles by Zane Grey, Tom Clancy, and numerous works on American history, and it's not hard to see why: his dust-dry voice has a no-nonsense authority, an unforced sturdiness that honors the book's military milieu without ever being starchy or dull.
Tears in the Darkness stands apart from many military histories through the pungency of its writing: the steaming jungle, agonising thirsts, and overwhelming desperation are conveyed with a color that is more common to novels than history texts. However, the main achievement of the book is the cohesion of its myriad fragments: we get an appraisal of US military strategy in the Southwest Pacific, Filipino children running through Japanese soldiers' legs to get banana-leaves and handfuls of rice to their starving fathers, one survivor's agonisingly slow crawl to safety from under the corpses of executed captives. And throughout, the book's hold never flags, due as much to Pritchard's powerful yet restrained narration as to the sense of unflinching truth. Dafydd Phillips
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Powerful, anguishing story
- Book and Movie Lover
Riveting and heartbreaking
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