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
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.
©2009 Michael and Elizabeth Norman; (P)2009 Tantor
I want to read books that take me to a "place and/or time" I've never been. On the other hand, I love reading about places where I HAVE been.
My own father was a POW in the Philippines for 40 months following his "march" from Bataan into the camp in 1942. During his lifetime he refused to talk about his experience, telling me only that it was a terrible time in his life. He only told me that he had suffered from Malaria, Dengue and Dysentery and that when he was released from his internment his 6' tall body weighed only 103 lbs. I knew there had been torture but he just would not discuss it.
After having read this book I can now "appreciate" why he needed to put the experience and memory of it to rest. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was not yet acknowledged. Men were expected to "deal with it" as they re-entered civilian life. Some suffered breakdowns. Others turned to alcohol. My father's way of dealing was to immerse himself in his work as a physician, sometimes to the detriment of the family who wanted him to be around more.
My heart aches for him and for my mother who had to wake up to his nightmares.
Read this to find out about the brave men who experienced this unspeakable horror.
Michael Prichard did an excellent narration of this book.
This is how history is supposed to be written, and narrated. Michael and Elizabeth Norman present a powerful work stitching together the overall story of horrific events with the common thread of a central soldier, Bud Steele, and a few other American and Japanese who appear throughout the captivating pages. Michael Pritchard delivers a brilliant interpretation of the text with a voice that is sensitive at all times to the mood of the moment - soft when necessary, urgent when called for, and always entertaining. The authors go deep into the psyche of the ordinary Japanese soldiers and their campaign commander to help the reader understand how the horrible events that took place were part of a chain of seeming inevitability. This work is an admirable marriage of comprehensive research, skillful writing and a narration of artistry. If there is a fault it is in leaving the fate of some of the people mentioned in the text hanging in historical mystery. Even so, this is a fantastic read and will probably rank among your favorites.
"The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why" Mark Twain
This book is a perfect blend of story telling and research that deals with a very dark and atrocious period of WWII. The authors tell the whole story - not only from the American point of view, but also from the perspective of Japanese soldiers and Generals. It is important to recognize that there were victims on BOTH sides - and such is the tragedy of war. This is one of my favorite books, both in terms of the authors who masterfully told this tragic story, but also due to its narration. Great listen!
Nothing prepares you for the hell that encompasses the men you encounter in this book. Ben Steel endures horrific and dehumanizing treatment at the hands of his captors and yet... and yet, he emerges scarred, but triumphant as a human being. Finding within himself the courage to face his own shortcomings and to forgive two nations, the one that betrayed him and the one that criminally abused him. March with these men and weep at their plight. Emerge a different person. I applaud the Norman's for shining a fresh light into these dark places and to Michael Pritchard for lending a human voice to this most tragic recounting of the Bataan Death March and its aftermath.
Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
"Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath" (2009) invites comparison to Laura Hillenbrand's much more well known "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" (2010). "Unbroken" is the story of former Olympian Louis Zamperini, who was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese following 47 days lost at sea, and held as a prisoner of war for three years. "Tears" is largely the story of Ben Steele, taken prisoner of war after the Philippines were surrendered in early 1942, and held until the end of the war.
"Tears" focuses on cowboy-turned-soldier Steele, who volunteered for the Army Air Corps rather than be drafted. Steele was sent to the Philippines, under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had a distinguished career, but he was at his inept, indecisive and arrogant nadir in 1941-42. The soldiers under his command still feel, even on the 21st Century, the humiliation of surrender.
Steele and his fellow soldiers - American and Filipino - were taken prisoner and force marched, mostly without food or water, 80 miles across the Bataan peninsula to a prisoner of war camp. Stragglers were bayonetted and left to rot in the jungle heat. No one is sure how many died during the march, but some estimates are more than 10,000. When they reached Camp O'Donnell, the prisoners worked as slave laborers while they were starved and beaten, and buried in unmarked mass graves when they dropped.
"Tears" also explains how the training and the structure of the Japanese military created the sadistic, sociopathic men who tormented Steele, Zamperini, and more than 100,000 other prisoners of war. There was a culture of contempt, brutality, and a complete lack of empathy that is condemned by professional military. I know - I am a US Army veteran.
If you have to choose between Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman's "Tears" and "Unbroken" choose both. If you can't, "Tears" has an overall perspective on military strategy and tactics; but Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" is exquisitely well written.
As I write this review, Steele is 93 and Zamperini is 96. Steele is a widely respected artist and speaker, and Zamperini is a frequent speaker whose life story, "Unbroken", is being directed by Angelina Jolie. Enjoy these extraordinary men while they are with us.
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This book should be required for any graduate level class on the Japanese Theater of Operations in the Phillipines, beginning with McArthur's "I shall return," to the surrender of Gen. Wainwright's division, the Bataan Death March, prision hospitals and punishment, and the subsequent war crimes trial of Japanese leader Homma. Long, but comprehensive. Great for lovers of military, legal, and political history. Well narrated by Michael Prichard.
I disagree completely with the reviewer who defined this as a man's book (in fact, it was just a little offensive). You will need to be interested in military history, historical documentary, etc.--but you don't need to be a man to hold those interests. I will, however, issue a couple of caveats (without defining it as a male/female issue), At times, the detail on military strategy can be numbing. (I "read" during a long commute, and found my mind wandering at times in the first several hours). It will matter farther on in the book, so try to keep focused. Second, some of the descriptions of the brutal treatment of the POWs is extremely graphic and difficult to hear. I'm female (but not weak stomached or hearted), and yet I found myself close to sobbing at times. The depravity and inhumanity that war can create (particularly this one, where the broad differences in culture led the Japanese to see their captives as subhuman and not having any value) subjected Americans AND Filipinos (whose casualties were much higher than the Americans) to horrific abuses. It's tough to listen to.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book. I just had to look up the main character on google after listening this. It is a remarkable true story of bravery
I find it difficult to use the word "enjoyed" when I speak of this book because it is a narration of the tragic events and treatment of the US POWs in Bataan and Japan. However, I feel enriched by learning of the things these men and women endured or died trying to endure. This is the type of book that anyone wanting to know what American spirit is all about should read and learn from. I think the tone of the narration of this book lends it the gravity that it deserves.
The thing that struck me most was that the Holocaust in Germany is common knowledge and the Bataan Death March is not. The atrocities committed against our own servicemen is an incredible and extremely moving story of survival.
At first I thought the book too graphic, but I now realize that nothing I knew before could have prepared me for the unbearable agonies and deaths that these men endured, nor for the inhumanity of war.
I was on the edge of my seat the entire book and by the time I got near the end, I wanted to drop the bomb on Hiroshima myself!
One comment though...the author's personal portrayal of General MacArthur is less favorable than historical accounts that I'm familiar with.
An incredible story and a must read for history buffs or anyone who loves a gripping read.
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