Review: MacArthur’s Spies

MacArthur’s Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II by Peter Eisner

Viking, 2017. Hardcover, 368 pages.Cover: MacArthur's Spies

Hawaii was not the only Pacific island threatened in December, 1941.  Other islands were also attacked, including the Philippines.  The American forces retreated to Bataan and the Japanese invaded Manila on January 2, 1942.  In the months to follow, life for all in those islands was turmoil.  Civilians fled, troops fought until they had nothing left.  Then when surrender came, some chose to fight on and that is the heart of this narrative.

Eisner tells the tale of three individuals who helped to lead this struggle. John Boone, a former enlisted soldier, became a guerilla colonel operating out of the jungle.  His men would stage attacks both in the jungle and in Manila itself.  Claire Fuentes, known to most of the guerilla network as Claire Phillips (taking her lover’s name), was a civilian who opened a nightclub from while she gathered intelligence information to pass along to the guerillas.  Together with others still in Manila, they also gathered supplies to send both to the guerilla fighters and those in the POW camps.  She also still managed to raise her daughter amid this.  Lastly, Chick Parsons escaped the occupation in the guise of a Panamanian diplomat only to return to coordinate guerilla efforts and pass along information directly to MacArthur.  All were American expatriates who chose to make Manila their home.  And each did what they could to pave the way for MacArthur’s promised return.

Overall, this book provides a good overview of life in Japanese-occupied Philippines.  I think readers will be able to see the struggle many went through.  However, I do think the subtitle picked was not the best as the book noticeably focused on Claire the most.  The others were always mentioned either in regards to her interaction with them or to provided backstory for those interactions.  A publisher summary I read compares the story to that of Casablanca.  I do disagree as other than the nightclub setting for parts of the story and both cities being under occupation, the focuses of each were vastly different.  MacArthur’s Spies was all about the struggles faced under enemy threat, espionage, and black marketeering. Casablanca was a love story featuring several of those elements, but the romance was undeniably the main focus.  I do think that reading this book gave me more insight to life under the Japanese for those occupied, much like other works I have read with a European focus.  The determination of those of Filipino or American origin does remind me of a novel I read that focuses on interned European civilians in the Dutch East Indies a few years back, Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer.

Do have any other books about World War II in the Philippines to recommend?  Or a different book about spies in wartime?

MacArthur’s Spies will be released on May 2, 2017.  This review was based on a digital advanced reader copy provided by NetGalley.

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