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
Former Marine 4321, former State Department public diplomacy officer. Current USAF Public Affairs Specialist
This book is so powerful. It turns so many classic ideas around - like the difference between defeat and victory. It opens with a discussion about the surrender of Japan, then works its way through the near defeat of Japanese forces on Bataan, the ultimate surrender of US forces on Bataan and ultimately back to the final surrender of Japan.
Like an amazing and painful sports game, this book kept me deeply engaged by detailing not only battles and dates, but snippets of people's diaries - from enlisted and officer, from Japanese and Americans and not only their battle lives, but also the memories of lives they left behind. The authors have humanized and illustrated with powerful clarity the people involved in this painful, seemingly distant struggle.
I had always suspected, but this book makes it clear, that the Japanese government of World War II didn't only oppress foreign lands, but also its own people. Through detailed descriptions of the lives of common Japanese soldiers, the authors bring to life a myriad of miseries they had to endure.
This book doesn't demonize anyone. It shows war for how stark and bitter it was for all and it brings history to vivid clarity. I love the way the authors hold out the detail of the American officer who surrenders, showing him from the eyes of a Japanese lieutenant, so that it is only at the end of that page that we learn he was the general in charge, not just a subordinate filling orders. The author details how pained the defeated Americans felt about the idea of giving up. How frustrating it was for them from senior to most junior to do the unthinkable. And yet to continue fighting under the conditions was pure suicide.
I love the rhythm and the literary feel of the writing. The author includes short, declarative sentences that add a marvelous staccato beat to an otherwise complex, entwined sequence of words.
I love the small details of Japanese and Tagalog language, like the gatakoto, gatakoto sound of a train in Japanese language. The cultural detail, like the observation that people believed Filipinos to be a mostly passive people and they would "just go along with everything," until someone's honor was threatened and then they were just as likely to turn a machete from harvesting crops to harvesting someone's head.
I love the details about the lack of training and equipment for the American and Philippine forces combined with a deep will to win and the details that despite a rage against the Army, Japanese men felt an obligation to protect their families.
I just LOVE this book.
I'm listening to it on my commute, a download from Amazon's audible and the narrator's voice is fantastic. This book makes the commute fly by. I get so wrapped up in the story, I don't mind the traffic.
The narration in this book is great. Is well-read and well-produced.
"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!
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.
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.
Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."
"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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Enjoying one good listen after the next!
I chose this book based on reviews that described it as a stellar, moving story about men who survived the horrors of war. For some, perhaps it was. For me, it was less of a story about the survivors than it was a detailed accounting of both American and Japanese strategy and battles in the Pacific.
Sorry, but that isn't my cup of tea. There were brief overlays that were compelling collages from the life of the boy/man from Montana who was catapulted unto an awful circumstance, but not enough to create a story line that kept my attention.
Likely this is a great war story, just not one that I could thoroughly enjoy.
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.
Much of this book I found fascinating. I grew up hearing about the death march and reading more details was sobering. I was disappointed that there were several people who figured into the story whose ultimate fates you did not end. Perhaps the authors couldn't get details if they died in the war or even afterwards. But i am sure that even if they couldn't furnish details, they could have at least determined if they survived the captivity itself. I would like to have known.
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