Who the Heck is Raju?
by Edie Clark
Raju is a fictional character who evolved in my imagination while I was on a ferocious six-year binge of studying the history of the Philippine Islands and World War II. The image of a young boy caught my attention as I was looking through a website of old Philippine photographs. He was young — maybe seven or eight years old — and had a shaggy fringe of bangs partially obscuring a pair of luminous, hopeful eyes. He was climbing a tree and had a full-on smile that radiated good humor and confidence. So far I haven’t been able to re-locate that old picture, but the sparkling audacity of that young boy stayed with me.
This event took place just as I finished reading Hampton Sides’ iconic book, “Ghost Soldiers,” about the men who were held prisoner by the Japanese for nearly three years in the horrific P.O.W. camp, Cabanatuan, during World War II. For years, a network of brave Philippine resistance workers risked their lives daily in an effort to keep the Allied soldiers alive. These resistance fighters eventually collaborated with a band of strapping American Rangers in an epic prison break that rescued all of the 500 surviving prisoners. “Ghost Soldiers” is an excellent non-fiction book that reads like a thriller, and it had an enormous influence on the next six or seven years of my life. As that young face looked back at me from the internet it was almost as if he was trying to tell me something.
My interest in this story began as a result of my Uncle Lincoln’s short life story. First Lieutenant Lincoln Romeiser Clark, Jr. was among the many prisoners — mainly American but also including some Canadians, Australians, and British — who were held at Cabanatuan. In October 1945 he, along with about 1500 others, was transported from Cabanatuan Prison to the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila. In December these prisoners were loaded onto a ship named the Oryoku Maru, bound for Japanese-held Manchuria.
If the ship had made it to Manchuria, and if they had survived the ghastly conditions of the ship, these men would have been used for slave labor in Japanese factories; instead, not knowing it was a P.O.W. ship, American planes bombed the Oryoku Maru, sinking it to the bottom of Subic Bay, in the Philippines. Some of the American prisoners lived to tell this story, but my uncle perished on the Oryoku Maru. He was 29 years old when he died, and never once saw his daughter, who was born while the American and Filipino soldiers were trapped on the Bataan peninsula.
Among the many extraordinary events that Mr. Sides describes in his book is the story of the Philippine resistance, which included an organized network of escaped American soldiers working with Filipinos in the Zambales Mountains. His recounting of the story of the Tsubaki Officers’ Club features two particularly memorable spies — Claire Phillips, an American from Portland Oregon who was posing as an Italian, and Fely Corcuera, a beautiful Filipina nightclub singer — and is among the most compelling WWII stories I’ve read. Both of these legendary women had a bone to pick with the Japanese; hell bent on revenge and victory, they focused all of their formidable resources on saving the Allied P.O.W.s and overthrowing the Japanese occupation. Among a host of other activities, they worked with “runners” — usually young Filipinos — to smuggle food, medicine, and clothing to the starving allied soldiers who were struggling to stay alive in Cabanatuan Prison.
I began to think it would be interesting to tell the story of the Japanese occupation and the Philippine resistance through the eyes of a young Filipino runner. I read dozens of books, including one written by Claire Phillips herself. I learned something about the importance of Philippine cultural tradition, the frightening power of voodoo, and the influence of deeply-held beliefs which are too often capriciously written off as superstitions. I read about the Igorots: “mountain people” who live to this day as an indigenous culture, and are commonly believed to be head-hunters. As I learned more and more about masamang salamangka, Philippine black magic; Aswang, the shape-shifting devil; the evil shamans known as mangkukulams; and their terrified victims, kikukulams; a story gradually emerged — the strange and frightening story of a young boy living in an ancient, highly ritualistic culture who comes face-to-face with a ruthless, highly trained, and technically savvy enemy.
My ambition is to see my novel, Raju, in print. To my knowledge — and I’ve looked — this is the only English language novel that tells this story from the resistance fighters’ point-of-view. Readers will be drawn to the scrappy young Filipino who, though he’s born with a curse on his head, bucks the odds with the help of his unlikely friend, Carl, an American officer from Chicago, Illinois. When Carl is imprisoned and near death, Raju throws his hat in the ring with a band of slinky nightclub performers, a teenage smuggler named Looter, a rescued cart horse named Bonesy, and a tough band of guerilla fighters. Together, these resistance fighters conspire to keep the prisoners alive, and to gather military intelligence for the Allied Forces.
Join Raju as he scouts for enemy patrols high in the misty Zambales Mountains, hold your breath alongside him when his family is attacked on Luzon’s central plains, and say a prayer as he makes a last bloody stand at the Cabu River Bridge. In this book, Raju’s adventures will become your adventures.
Interested readers can learn more about Raju in my short story, Night Insects, which will soon be released in Threads, an anthology published by Neoglyphic Entertainment that’s due for release soon. It’s available for pre-order now on Amazon.com, and includes a cross-section of many short story genres. I’m proud to have been awarded 2nd prize for my story about one moonless night in the Zambales Mountains when Raju suddenly comes wide awake, sensing that something is terribly wrong.
Happy reading to everyone.