Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Countdown to Paper

April 27th, 2009 · 10 Comments

nthwspaperbackAs of yesterday, we’ve got one month to go ’til Microkhan’s labor o’ love, Now the Hell Will Start, hits shelves in paperback form. To celebrate this joyous occasion, we’ll be doing a sorta DVD-extras thing from now ’til May 26th. Every day, Microkhan will scoop up some NtHWS-related material off the cutting-room floor, and post here for parties interested in such disparate topics as headhunting, British colonialism, the Depression-era South, scientific racism, Assamese politics, opium addiction, and much, much more.

For those unfamiliar with NtHWS, here’s the skinny from the jacket:

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 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.

As an intro to NtHWS Extras Month, check out this 1945 Universal Newsreel, a rare look at the Ledo Road during its extraordinarily brief heyday. Or you can check out this much longer documentary about the entire Burma Road, which the Ledo Road joins up with at Mong-Yu. The doc’s narrator? Some bloke by the name of Ronald Reagan.


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10 Comments so far ↓

  • buskertype

    Wow! I will be reading this.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @buskertype: Thank you–that’s exactly what we like to hear ’round these parts. Every paperback we sell puts a nickel into Microkhan Jr.’s “Class of 2030” college fund.

  • Gramsci

    Small wonder Spike jumped on this. Congratulations, I can’t wait to read it. One of my favorite novels is Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” and this reminds me of it in a non-fiction, American, even more sweeping kind of way.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: You will likely be unsurprised to learn that “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is one of my top five favorite novels of all time. In preparing to write NtHWS, I re-read the Mongolian section of that book about a dozen times. Haunting, and utterly brilliant.

  • Gramsci

    Wow- I think I earned a second question. Is the title a slight nod to the movie and resonant storyline you probably already know I’m going to mention– Apocalypse Now?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: Interesting question. The title is actually something someone says in the book. (I should make clear that there’s not a single word of invented dialogue in NtHWS; the line was genuinely uttered by a character in real life.)

    But there’s no doubt I was heavily, heavily influenced by “Apocalypse Now” to pursue the story in the first place. IIRC, I’d recently seen “Redux” when I first stumbled upon the idea back in ’03, so the jungle was much in my mind back then.

    I’m actually skedded to rewatch “Apocalypse Now” this week, as part of my screenplay research. Probably seen it a dozen times over the years, but not since ’05 or so. And, yes, I’ll be watching “Redux”; unlike most folks, I like that whole French plantation scene.

  • Jordan

    Brendan, I’ll definitely be checking out your book and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”. I figure recommendations around here are pretty solid.

  • Gramsci

    You won’t regret it, Jordan.

    I liked Redux too– it was the last film I saw before 9/11. I have to watch the plantation scene again– all I remember was a vague decline-of-the-west phantasmic feel to it. Also, Playmates.

  • Shaina

    Congrats on your book Brendan, I’ve really enjoyed NTHWS and am looking forward to the “extras” feature.

    I was wondering if in your research if you came across any other children , or stories of children between American GIs and local women?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Shaina: While in NE India and NW Burma, I did hear some non-specific tales of children who’d been fathered by American GIs. (I actually quote from one of these sources toward the end of the book.) But I did not come across any concrete evidence of the existence of such half-American people.

    But that may change, as I recently got an intriguing trip from my good friend in Arunachal Pradesh. He has promised to follow up when he’s next down in Dibrugarh, Assam. Fingers crossed on this one.