Tears in Darkness Hits NY Times Top Sellers List; Authors Are Alumni of Rutgers University, Newark

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(Newark, N.J., July 2, 2009) – The memories of the “greatest generation,” now in their 80s and 90s, are fading, and their numbers are rapidly dwindling. But thanks to Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman, the sacrifice and suffering of one group of World War II soldiers is being remembered and revered as never before. The husband and wife team are both alumni of Rutgers University in Newark, Michael a 1972 graduate of the Newark College of Arts & Sciences, while Elizabeth earned a BS from the College of Nursing in 1973.  They are being acclaimed by critics and readers alike for their newly published book, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). 

Only weeks after its release, the book has reached #9 on The New York Times NonFiction Bestsellers list (July 12, 2009) and has been praised by Times reviewer Dwight Garner, who declared: ”If you aren’t openly weeping by the book’s final scenes…then you have a hard crust of salt around your soul.” The book also has been applauded by Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus Reviews.

 The Normans set some tough goals for their book, their first collfeaaborative literary effort. They wanted readers to “see, smell, feel and hear” what happened during World War II’s infamous death march, which followed the surrender of some 76,000 American soldiers to the Japanese in the Philippines in April 1942.  The prisoners were weakened by hunger, malaria and dysentery following almost four months of intense fighting against the Japanese invaders. When the Japanese marched their prisoners 66 miles through the peninsula of Bataan, many collapsed and died, others were killed by their captors.  Others died in the camps from starvation, disease, torture and forced labor.

 To ensure that they presented a three-dimensional document of all that happened, they sought out all sides of the story: American, Filipino and Japanese, interviewing more than 400 people in the US, Japan and the Philippines, tapping more than 2,800 sources.  And they wanted their history to have a human face, and found one in the person of Ben Steele of Montana, a survivor who experienced the horror first-hand, from the invasion of the Philippines to his liberation in 1945.  The book is anchored around his story, including illustrations by Steele, who went on to become an artist and professor at Montana State University.

 One way to “animate history,” notes Michael Norman, is to “gather details, thousands and thousands of details,” that will bring it to life.  The Normans did just that, spending 10 years meticulously researching their material and conducting the interviews, ever mindful that the survivors are a “historical population” that is rapidly being lost. Contacting American and Filipino survivors was relatively easy, thanks to various survivors’ associations and government agencies, but it took the aid of a Japanese journalist for the Normans to locate and interview veterans of the Japanese Imperial Army.

 The Normans have been gratified by the reaction to their book, especially from readers born decades after the death march.  Michael was interviewed by View magazine –whose readers are primarily under the age of 35 – and was pleased at the amount of positive online commentary that ensued, noting that most of the young readers had never heard of the death march and wanted to learn more.  

 The Normans met while students at the Newark campus of Rutgers, where Michael proposed.  The campus’s Catholic chaplain married the couple at Elizabeth’s home, surrounded by RU classmates.

 Michael’s interest in the Bataan story was sparked by Elizabeth’s book, We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped in Bataan by the Japanese.   They combined her research expertise with his journalistic attention to detail in Tears in the Darkness.


Although this is the couple’s first joint book, Michael, a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Vietnam War, is a former reporter for The New York Times and a journalism professor.  In addition to We Band of Angels, Elizabeth Norman wrote a second book, Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam.  Both are members of the faculty at New York University.

Media Contact: Carla Capizzi