Now the Hell Will Start

According to, Spike Lee is adapting another book into film. Pardon my ignorance, but I’m unfamiliar with both the author and the text. Since I need to know these things, let’s learn a bit together:

Now the Hell Will Start (May 2008, 400 pages) by Brendan I. Koerner 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 villagefestooned 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. Yet it is also an exhilarating thriller, a cat-and-mouse yarn that dazzles and haunts.

I did a brief search for an author’s bio, but didn’t come up with anything worth posting. Koerner’s worked for a few magazines and newspapers. He obviously loves research like me. He isn’t black. Okay, I’m sorry but when I see stories about black people (scholarship included), I like to know whether the author is black. Maybe it doesn’t make a difference, but I need to put an author’s face with their material. That’s just me. Anyway, an old NPR article featured an author photo (hard to find, trust), photos of Herman Perry, and a book excerpt:

It is best to use discretion when confronting an emotionally shattered man, especially if he’s holding a semiautomatic rifle.
Lieutenant Harold Cady should have heeded that commonsense advice on the morning of March 5, 1944. But several fellow soldiers were watching as he drew near Private Herman Perry, a sobbing, trembling GI armed with a .30-caliber M1. Cady couldn’t have the spectators thinking he was soft, or his hard-ass reputation would be ruined. He’d show them he could quell this bad egg Perry, loaded rifle be damned.

Perry was walking toward the muddy roadside, a few dozen yards from Cady’s parked jeep. He glanced over his shoulder and spied the onrushing lieutenant. “Get back!” Perry yelled. “Get back!”

Cady had left his pistol at the battalion’s camp, near the Burmese village of Tagap Ga. But he didn’t appear fazed by his lack of firepower: he advanced to within four feet of the quivering Perry.

Perry spun and faced his pursuer. He nervously pressed the M1’s stock against his right hip and trained the muzzle on Cady’s chest. Tears spilled down his gaunt, dark cheeks.

“Lieutenant, don’t come up on me,” Perry sputtered.

Cady froze. The dank and toxic Burmese jungle, its chaotic flora tinted a hallucinogenic green, towered over the two Americans. To the west loomed the Patkais, the mountain range that lines the northern border between India and Burma. Their thickly forested slopes, teeming with monkeys, tigers, and ornately tattooed headhunters, peeked through wisps of haze.

(Read more . . .)

After seeing Miracle at St. Anna, I’m eagerly curious to see what Spike Lee does with this film. Happy reading, y’all!


6 thoughts on “Now the Hell Will Start

    • I’m saying, Spike Lee needs a book blog. I want to know what he’s reading and when. Seriously. That might be a good blog post for me, books that inspire Spike Lee movies. lol


  1. I’m not a fan of Spike’s adaptations. St. Anna was acted and shot beautifully, but the story was convoluted. Spike doesn’t like editing himself.
    This is a popular theme–“going native” after a shock, usually brought on in war. The most fairy tale swashbuckling pne was Nick Nolte in “Farwell to the King.”


  2. I just started reading this book. With all of the films out there about WWII and with all of the reading I have done about that war and American history I am surprised, yet not surprised that I did not know of this courageous story. I have seen saving private ryan and apocolyps now several times, but there never was a story about this group of men (those forced to toil on Ledo Road). Similarly , there have been no stories, far as I can tell, about all black tank groups in WWII. As literary critics say, this is a true page turner.


  3. Pingback: the rasx() context » Blog Archive » “Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II” and other links…

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