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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America's first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history. The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book.

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

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Riveting and heartbreaking

This chilling book reveals the barbaric treatment of allied soldiers by the Japanese army in WW2. The level of cruelty is as shocking as anything perpatrated by the Nazis in Europe. Some scenes of torture and murder caused me to cringe. That any of the soldiers survived is a testament to the will to live, as well as the kindness of fellow soldier's. This is a story of humanity-the loss of it by the Japanese, and the retention of it by those seemingly without hope.

Michael Pritchard did his usual superb job of narrating.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


This is what every history book should be and must be praised for several reasons. To begin, it brings to light an often neglected horror of WWII: The Death March On Baatan. Like Iris Chang's book, The Rape Of Nanking, the Normans give us the lives and sufferings of people who should never be left in the shadows of historical narrative. Secondly, this is a hugely well-written book! This obviously deeply-researched volume absolutely brings this story to life. I have gone through it like I did James Stewart's MANHUNT: THE TWELVE DAY SEARCH FOR LINCOLN'S KILLER, and for the same reason. Both tell history through the eyes and stories of those who lived it in incredible detail with rich, poetic touches. This is a must read!!!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Powerful, anguishing story

I can't remember the last audio book that I enjoyed so much that I had to run out and purchase the hardcover version just to see the pictures and re-read some of the sections at my leisure, but I did so with Tears in the Darkness. It is the story of the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippine Islands during World War II. Manila was a plum assignment for anyone in the military. That all changed suddenly and dramatically with first the news that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and next when Japan attacking the Philippines. The Japanese army, built with men who had been subjected to cruelty from the day they entered the service of their country and had thus most had all humanity snuffed out of them during their introductory military training, took over the Philippines faster than the Americans could have ever anticipated, then went on to brutalize them in an unimaginable way. On the famous Bataan death march, which although is part of the title of this book is not a huge aspect of this book, men were routinely beaten, starved, and deprived of even water. They were shot or bayonetted for stopping to assist another. When it was inconvenient to transport men at one point, the Japanese simply decided to bayonet them in small batches and throw them over a cliff. When they were transported in a ship they were unable to breathe, given no food or water. This book will leave you with a lasting impression of true suffering endured by so many. If you don't understand why military tribunals exist for passing judgment for crimes committed on fields of battle, you may after reading this. (Dead men simply can't provide testimony.) There can be no excuse for what was done by the military of the Empire of Japan. Also a good reminder for us to maintain our military strength and stay vigilant at all times. Friends become enemies overnight.

42 of 47 people found this review helpful

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  • Joel
  • Mill Valley, CA, United States
  • 03-14-12

Compellingly written, compellingly read

Shortly after finishing this story, I read/listened to a new history of World War II. Within the nearly 40 hours of narration, this story of the heroism, bravery, and shocking depravity merited only about two sentences. To think that such an incredible sequence of events -- the invasion, battles, and surrender in the Philippines exists as almost a footnote in any other telling of WWII is hard to believe. The story here is so rich and intricate that fascination with what it took to survive overpowers any lingering revulsion at what happened in those years following the initial fall of Manila and the Bataan peninsula.

That doesn't mean that the events are any easier to accept. To confront such hatred and evil takes a particular determination. This story by Michael and Elizabeth Norman is told in a way that never excuses any actions, but does give context and three dimensionality to many of the most important players in this awful calamity. Michael Prichard, again, does a fantastic job of bringing the text to life. As a result, I came away from this book with a newfound appreciation for all of the little things, relatively speaking, that happen in war. Bravery doesn't always shine like a newly minted coin. Sometimes, it is hidden in far off corners of the world, where men and women do what they believe is right, in the face of unspeakable wrong.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • CBDC
  • Washington, DC USA
  • 08-11-09

Left me shaken and very moved

An incredible book which is at the same time upsetting and elevating. Perhaps the book moved me as much as it did because I knew one of the survivors of the Bataan Death March and some of what he experienced. It's one of the books I'll leave on my iPhone for awhile. "Tears in the Darkness" gave me renewed respect for our humanity, our vulnerability, and our strength. The people I met in the book will stay with me for a long time. I am grateful to the Norman's for pulling this material together.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Revenge does not taste sweet.

This beautifully-told and well-researched book tells the tale of the Bataan Death march, the events leading up to it, and the events that followed it. Primarily it is the tale of Ben Steele of Montana. But it also tells the stories of many others in varying amounts of detail. Interestingly, the book has a secondary focus on Masaharu Homma, the Japanese general who was in charge of the Japanese troops responsible for the Death March.

Ben Steele's story is terrible for all the reasons you would imagine, plus a few more. General Homma's story is also surprisingly tragic. And while Ben Steele's story is painful because of the physical and mental suffering he experienced at the hands of Japanese soldiers (though, let’s face it, soldiers of all nationalities act inhumanely toward their enemies and nearby civilians with depressing regularity) General Homma's story is no less poignant.

He is made a scapegoat and punished for the sake of expediency, politicking, and possibly even personal revenge. This left me feeling hollow as it capped off the tragedy of the Death March with one more unjust act visited on a man who was far less deserving of punishment than others who were never punished. When confronted with a tragedy, the desire in some for quick retribution leads them to betray the higher principles they are supposed to be fighting in defence of.

On a final note, I was surprised that by the end of this book my opinion of US General Douglas MacArthur had dropped considerably. The book did not cast any aspersions on him. To me, though, the facts suggested a man much more keenly interested in his power and legacy than in anyone or anything else.

PS: The picture on the cover is actually of Ben Steele in captivity

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fascinating! (and I'm a woman!)

Regardless of gender, if you like history, learning about different places and culture, I think you'll like this book. Although I knew of the Bataan Death March in general, I had no knowledge of the harrowing details of the march and the imprisonment that followed. Additionally, the book gives insight into the Japanese mentality and culture so that one understands how the Japanese regarded the prisoners and also themselves. The entire book is deeply moving.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Carolyn
  • Savannah, GA, United States
  • 11-05-11

Many perspectives on an unforgettable story

The first time I heard of this book, I was in a bookstore browsing and found the hardcover copy of this book on the bargain rack. I couldn't for the life of me figure why it was there, as it sounded extremely intriguing. Unfortunately I was feeling indecisive that day, and I left the book on the shelf. Regretting that I hadn't bought it, I was pleased to find the audio version through Audible.

The authors did a remarkable job of bringing to life people from all groups involved with and affected by the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the Bataan Death March, and the ultimate Allied victory over Japan. Through various parts of the narrative, we hear the perspectives of enlisted and officers from both sides.

The treatment of the American and Filipino P.O.W.s was appalling, both in the passive forms of neglect and the active forms of torture, abuse and murder. Many of the descriptions will turn your stomach in disgust and anger. Yet the story was much more complex than that. I found it truly awe-inspiring to hear in the same vignette about the abominable actions of Japanese captors, and the selflessness, grace and good will of the Filipino civilians. There is a description that will really take your breath away of children running past armed guards into the columns to hand sugar cookies to the prisoners.

Yet, the authors do not paint the Japanese as evil, heartless monsters, but rather illustrate the conditions that led to such extreme actions. The mythos and history behind Imperial Japan and its push to expand is explained, as well as the brutal military training process. The actions of the captors against their prisoners is shocking, but it becomes much less surprising when you learn how the Japanese military treated its own troops. There are moments of sheer horrifying cruelty and violence, and moments of surprising benevolence, such as Japanese guards silently slipping food and quinine to suffering prisoners. Some of the feelings of the Japanese troops are revealed, as well. The loss of life on their side during the engagements on the Philippines was pretty staggering; to suddenly have the "enemies" responsible for the deaths of many of one's comrades must have been an irresistible opportunity for vengeance for some. At the same time, we hear about the decline of morality among the American prisoners. Under such harsh conditions, some soldiers forgot about looking out for anyone but themselves, resorting to theft, bullying and even physical violence against one another.

I think more than anything this book is a statement about the extremes of human nature revealed by the cruelty of war. Nothing about this book is simple or black-and-white. I believe this is an important piece of history to learn about, and this book presents the story in a very human way that challenges pre-conceived notions.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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How did I not know this?

I'd heard of the Bataan Death march, but had no clue to the extent of the cruelty, angst and endurance of survivors. Book starts a little slowly, but becomes impossible to put down. Very similar to "Unbroken" in looking at WWII from the Pacific side. It left me pondering life and humanity, much as I did after reading "Night."

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Military History At Its Finest

Humans at their worst and at the same time at their very best. I'm was amazed at how cruel the human being can be. War history told through letters, facts and interviews allowed me to be there and see everything first hand. General MacArthur was brilliant but also self absorbed to the detriment of his command. I thought about this book for several weeks after I had finished it. Excellently written and narrated.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful