Bringing to light a little-known facet of the Pacific theater in World War II.
Veteran foreign correspondent Eisner (The Pope's Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI's Campaign to Stop Hitler, 2013, etc.) tracks three complicated stories of Allied heroics that took place when the Japanese attacked and invaded the Philippines just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese overran the American-held archipelago, driving the Americans to the Bataan peninsula and to the fortress of Corregidor before eventually forcing Gen. Douglas MacArthur to flee to Australia with his family and staff in March 1942 and the rest of the Americans and Filipinos to surrender ignominiously in April. Moving chronologically, Eisner alternates among the characters while concentrating on the actions of an enigmatic American woman from Michigan, born Claire Phillips, who had so many aliases and secrets after she left home as a teenager that it was hard for the biographer to ascertain the truth. Nonetheless, after three marriages, she wound up in Manila, braving the Japanese occupation with a foster child. After wooing a younger American soldier, with whom she went to Bataan, she eventually opened a nightclub for the Japanese officers in Manila, the Tsubaki Club, in order to finance her covert activities to aid the American POWs. Meanwhile, above the hills of Bataan, John Boone, a 29-year-old colonel, had lost contact with his army after the Japanese invasion and, recognizing the desperation of the surrender, began to organize a guerrilla army made up of other stragglers and deserters, supported materially by Phillips, known as “High Pockets,” and others. Eisner’s third link is slippery U.S.–born Navy reserve officer Charles “Chick” Parsons, who, masquerading as a Spanish- and Tagalog-speaking businessman, was able to relay supplies and information to the guerrillas. Though the individual stories are gripping, the writing is workmanlike and Eisner struggles to organize these detailed threads into a cohesive narrative.
An uneven war story that will appeal to aficionados of the Pacific theater and wartime espionage.