Now Silence, A Novel of World War II
by Tori Warner Shepard

Published: 2008-10-01
Paperback : 316 pages
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In this superbly researched W.W.II novel, award-winning writer Tori Warner Shepard captures the mood of remote Santa Fe, NM as it waits out W.W.II for the return of her men held in Japanese prison camps. POW, Melo Garcia has survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines but his brother and ...
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In this superbly researched W.W.II novel, award-winning writer Tori Warner Shepard captures the mood of remote Santa Fe, NM as it waits out W.W.II for the return of her men held in Japanese prison camps. POW, Melo Garcia has survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines but his brother and father have not. Along with 1500 other America prisoners, he is diseased, tortured, starved and used as slave labor in a condemned coal mine outside of Nagasaki, Japan. Shepard gracefully carries the reader back and forth between Nagasaki and Santa Fe, weaving in the lives of the gritty women who wait for their men. Phyllis, the outsider and narcissistic bombshell moves to Santa Fe seemingly to get the better of LaBelle, Melo's betrothed and Anissa, the I AM crazed follower and the x-wife-to-be of Phyllis's recently deceased beau. All gain faith from Melo's mother, Nicasia who waits for her only son to return from war. Now Silence is as much a story of the men's heroism as it is of their Hispanic Community which after Pearl Harbor was a distant and a safe refuge from the war, sought out by the US Government as an internment camp for 2000 Japanese Isseii barely a mile from the office of the top-secret Manhattan Project that was developing the atomic bomb to be dropped 20 miles from Melo's prison camp. Add to the mix FBI and Counter-intelligence agents, Gringo fanatics opposed to Roosevelt, a multi-cultural community with an historic hotel and bar and you will have a sense of Santa Fe during W.W.ll. This gripping exposition of the Japanese atrocities is even-handed and the characters and personalities on the home front will haunt your memory.

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Fukuoka Camp Number 17, Kyushu, Japan, 1945

Melo and Senio were alive after the harsh winter with no clothes, no blankets and thinned rice. The death rate from starvation and disease climbed, and compounding the prisoner's jeopardy was the authentic fear now of being bombed by their own countrymen. From February onward, the US Army bombers raced overhead in huge formations, systematically bombing the mainland. Dogfights and explosions thundered overhead whenever the visibility permitted. Raid after daylight raid pocked the skies, and the Japanese Zeros gave earsplitting chase. If there was cloud cover, the bombers went elsewhere and the immediate fear of a shock-induced cave-in declined in the deep mine. Night duty was always more relaxed.

The Allied strike force was priming to cripple the Japanese war machine by softening the Empire for the land battles when the Allied infantry invaded from the south. In Nagasaki, the Mitsubishi Arms Works was a major target for the fighter planes to scream down to 1,000 feet with sights set for a direct hit before pulling up and out. The prisoners were wretchedly aware that more often than not these bombers were appallingly wide of their marks, frequently miles off-target. Being twenty air miles from Nagasaki still left them living in a kill zone. "Precision Bombing" was a joke.

When the B-24 Liberators were first spotted groaning overhead toward the Mitsubishi munitions factories, everyone cringed, the guards as well as the POWs. Even if it was too exhausted to be strategic, the Mitsui mine itself was a probable secondary target. And in the beginning, when the men at Camp Number 17 first saw clouds of smoke and ack-ack puffs black against the southern horizon, they cheered and swaggered in spite of the knowledge that their presence was invisible, uncharted and forgotten. But when they were sent into the dark unstable mine, their hopes were overcome with terror. The longed-for liberation would follow the demolition of any of the several Mitsui mines, each with a day shift of 350 men buried alive by their own American and Allied pilots. Any explosion, any tremor or concussion would domino that cave-in and the soldiers and POWs would be buried alive. Death by this means could take a week.

Two days after Melo had been beaten by Watanabe, there was an air raid siren quickly followed by an all-clear. The clouds were patchy on August 9th, by the calendar--a Thursday--but the men had grown too listless to keep track of the days not marked by some startling event. Once it had been determined that August First had passed and they were still alive, they passed the "Kill All" off as more of Tojo's oriental chickenshit.

Most dates did not matter, even the dates of deaths. Deaths did not matter either. Like the pilots above them, if a buddy did not return, no one indulged in speculation. Mourning was unemotional, silent; soldiers had long ago ceased asking, Why not me?

Melo and Senio walked numbly past their barracks from the mess hall, oblivious to the sirens. Air raid warnings were often confused with the smelter factory whistles and the whistles for the shift change in the mine, so this one siren passed unnoticed. When the all clear sounded immediately on the tail of the first warning, the danger of attack dissolved. Probably some trigger-happy guard pushing the wrong button.

All-clear, forget it.

A hole opened in the cloud cover overhead and since neither Melo or Senio was below in the mine at that time, they might have spotted the two B-29s droning overhead at 30,000 feet, glinting splinters of sunlight. And later, they believed they had. It was 1053 hours. Most air raids had a terrifying swarm of fifty and sixty fighter planes thundering low overhead, skimming the hilltops, then pulling up to storm north with a payload of firebombs. Their combined droning was enough to cause small landslides.

The two planes above the clouds pulsed without great notice.

All Clear.

When the all clear sounded, the clouds were scattered and Senio remembered shrugging. These B-29s were too high. With luck and prayers, they were two reconnaissance planes with photographic equipment. The POWs had taken rocks, strips of underwear, anything they could lay their hands on to spell out P-O-W in the dirt and on the roof of the largest barracks. They hoped the cameras had picked them up. Someone needed to be made to give a damn; no one knew they existed.

Arsenio squinted up and hollered, "This is a godforsaken POW camp. Do you copy?"

But Melo was in no condition to smile and he doubted bitterly that anyone cared about their presence. What seemed like ten minutes later they both saw a fireball in the direction of Nagasaki; saw it hover in the sky and turn into a giant mushroom, its stem churning and boiling red on a bed of black smoke, a fire burning in the cloud.

Moments later, they were rocked by a ground wave, which brought paralyzing fear for the lives in the shift below. Melo and Senio stared at the fiery core and caught their breaths, shakes wracked their bodies.

Below, the men in the shafts were terrified by an underground lurch that echoed the sounds of rock hitting rock down the warrens of abandoned shafts. Everyone froze, above and below, both the prisoners and their overseers; all had been forewarned that the mine was poised to collapse, direct hit or not. And not only was Nagasaki a prime target with its weapons manufacturing plants, but the workers were POWs, and if the fire was a bomb, the other prisoners had been hit.

Deep in the mine, the lights flickered. The men closed their eyes, tried to breathe through their panic when the lights faltered a second time. Then they went out completely and the men were paralyzed with a compounding dread.

A haze formed over Nagasaki.

Meanwhile, as Melo continued to drag himself, and to be dragged slowly toward the POW sickbay, both he and Senio kept a suspicious eye to the south where a rising viscous black smoke obscured the light. The murky pall spread thickly throughout the day, dropping the temperature and blocking out the sun. Later, they learned that Nagasaki was on fire.

Over the next few days the wind drifted in random streams across the bay as Nagasaki burned. The fires pushed by the coils of moving updrafts swallowed the breathable air. By the fourth day, cinders fell like snow and no more fighter planes cluttered the sky. They simply stopped coming.

A hollow silence. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1) In what way Is Phyllis typical of immigrants to the United States? What are her purposes in leaving home? Was Russell's sister correct in saying that Phyllis had earned the inheritance?
2) Did the war effort give the feeling of uniting the various ethnic groups in the country against a common enemy? How did the rationing of gasoline, sugar, shoes and such contribute to this?
3) Did the train scenes with the troops contribute to your understanding of how the war impacted everyday life in America?
4) Was there an urgency in the Naval camp regarding deployment for Europe and the D Day offensive? The Now Silence storyline begins with Phyllis and ends the night of her departure - is she the main character? Why did she want to leave? Where will she end up? Can she go home?
5) Is the four- centuries-old community of Santa Fe as much of a character in the story as the characters?
6) Anissa and the I AMers convene in Santa Fe during the war - for what purpose? Why does Anissa also leave Santa Fe? How strong is her belief in the Great I AM Presence ? How do religions like this spring up in America and not in Europe as often?
7) What was the appeal of the Philippines for the 1800 men from New Mexico? Did this play a part in Melo's not wanting to return home at the end of the war?
8) Why did General Wainwright surrender the troops when MacArthur 's orders were to not capitulate to the enemy? Was his the correct decision?
9) What were the rules of the Geneva Convention and why did the Japanese not abide by them?
10) Does any army want prisoners? Are they a burden or useful?
11) What is the symbolic gesture/gestures of the men in the 200th Artillery eating MacArthur's horse?
12) Which fighting force Japanese or Americans had the worse conditions in the Philippines? Why were the prisoners made to walk in “the Death March” after they surrendered? Why were the Japanese so intolerant of them?
13) What were the conditions in the Mitsui Mine at the end of the war? Why was a condemned mine being worked by the American POWs as slave laborers overseen by maimed and out-of-favor Japanese soldiers ?
14) Regarding Friendly Fire: It is estimated that 16 out of every 100 casualties/deaths were caused by friendly fire. What does this tell us about the organization and execution of war? Were the POWs at Camp number 17 in real danger of being bombed?
15) It is a tradition in most native American literature that a cleansing/purification ceremony is preformed to heal the wounded warrior. Do you think that the Matanza is adequate to the task of bringing Melo home?
16) Do you think that it is possi9ble for Melo to live happily ever after? What about present day veterans of American wars, Vietnam and Iraq?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Dear Readers,

After growing up in Japan and the Philippines in the 1940s, W.W.II became an integral part of my life. My passion resulted in 25 years of research for this historical WW ll novel, Now Silence. Now Silence captures the mood of remote Santa Fe, New Mexico as it waits out W.W.II for the return of her men held in Japanese prison camps. It gracefully carries the reader back and forth between Nagasaki and Santa Fe, weaving in the lives of the gritty women who wait for their men. “I couldn't put it down - -so much fascinating and important history supporting bigger than life characters….their story is painfully close to today's returning veterans” Jane Fletcher Geniesse, “American Priestess” and “Passionate Nomad”

It is a fine book for Book Clubs since it touches on strong issues of love, religion, patriotism, loyalty, war, shame, family and war. Please log onto my email at [email protected] to win one of five signed books by guessing a secret number between one and one hundred. The website NowSilence.com is preparatory to the film -- script by TC Warner and Tori Warner Shepard.

'Her characters…are bold, energetic and electrifying. It is intense, sexy, poignant, dark, humorous and altogether engaging from the opening page to the final moments.' Jordon Richardson, Blogcritics Magazine

I will delight in hearing from you, Many Thanks, Tori Warner Shepard

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