So at long last, we’ve come to the appointed hour: The Now the Hell Will Start paperback hits stores today, and can currently be had via Amazon for as little as a tenner. Not a bad deal in our humble (albeit biased) opinion, considering the nearly five years’ worth of mental toil contained within those pages.
We’ve been building up to this since late April, with our daily NtHWS Extras series of factoids, anecdotes, and other material gleaned off the cutting-room floor. For the outro, we decided to go simple and post the map above. It’s taken from a U.S. Army publication, a commemorative booklet issued to soldiers upon the “completion” of the Stilwelll (née Ledo) Road. We put completion in quotes because the Road was never totally finalized; when V-J Day rolled around, they were still ironing out the kinks as the monsoon rains pounded. Mere hours after Japan’s official surrender, the order came down from Washington to abandon the Road; when a New Republic reporter visited northwest Burma a year later, he couldn’t even travel 20 miles on the highway. So much of it had already been reclaimed by the jungle.
We’ll try not to bore you with too much salesmanship, but suffice to say that Now the Hell Will Start was a true labor ‘o love that we hope you’ll check out. It’s got everything a curious mind needs to get through the day: War, murder, love, political folly, vintage drug use, and, yes, headhunting. Not yet convinced? Peep the flap copy:
A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, Now the Hell Will Start tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding playboy from 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.
You can also check out the Slate slideshow here, Boing Boing’s great shout-out here, and the movie news here. C’mon, give in to temptation—your life will be oh-so-much richer with a copy of Now the Hell Will Start on your bookshelf. Guaranteed.