Tuesday, June 13, 2017

MacArthur's Spies

Title:  MacArthur's Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II
Author:  Peter Eisner
Publication Information:  Viking. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0525429654 / 978-0525429654

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Just hours after the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor in December 194`, Japanese planes launched a second attach 5,300 miles away, bombing and strafing U.S. military airfields surrounding Manila in the Philippine Islands."

Favorite Quote:  "... the grief and final confrontation of the truth were overwhelming."

The soldier is John Boone, who turns from soldier into rebel leader. The singer is Claire Phillips aka Claire Maybelle Snyder, Clara Fuentes, and Dorothy Fuentes; she reinvents herself as the need arises to survive and to help others survive. The spymaster is Chick Parsons, an American who pretends to be a Panamanian in the Philippines to gain information from the Japanese to help the Americans.

Three Americans from entirely differently places and with entirely different interests all play a role in support of the Allied Forces in the Philippines during World War II. Their approaches are different. Their personal goals are different. Yet, their individual efforts all manifest themselves in working for Allied success and Japanese defeat.

No one believed the War would come to Manila until it did, suddenly, shockingly, and almost unopposed. The Allied forces, the Philippine people, and the expatriates living in Manila were left dead or scrambling for their lives. Many died. Many left or were forced to leave. Some stayed and fought. Perhaps, they were not dressed as soldiers and did not carry weapons you could see, but they were soldiers in a war nevertheless.

My reason for choosing this book is that I have read many books about or set during World War II but never this particular setting or this particular history. As such, the topic and the time period intrigued me. The book does deliver on that history. I know much more now about this intriguing piece of history than I did before reading the book.

For a few reasons, this book remains short of being a completely engaging book for me. First is the author's note which acknowledges that Claire Phillips' statements about her role in the War included "distortions she and some of her comrades-in-arms told after the war." In addition, a bit of research also notes that she sued the US government for restitution for the assistance she provided to the resistance efforts. These facts somewhat tarnish the image of the heroes who "defined the Japanese." Knowing what comes after makes it difficult to stay engaged with the characters during the story.

Second, the books jumps between the different fronts on which these three - soldier, singer, and spymaster - operated. The transitions from one to the other are not always smooth. As such, the flow of the story is broken. I understand that this book is history not story; however, many a history books are written in a way so as to be thorough in their facts and engaging in their stories. This one sticks more to the facts.

Third, the depth of the research presented also becomes the book's downfall. The book at times feels mired in its own details. It seems a listing of facts. This happened. Then, this happened. Then, this happened. Again, the detail is perhaps expected in a history book. However, again, the story falls prey to the writing style with the continuity and the arc of the story becoming weighed down with perhaps unnecessary facts.

I am glad for the history this book introduced me to. I just would have preferred a more concise, more story-like telling of the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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