Review of "The Airmen and The Headhunters" written by Judith Heimann
This is the true story of a B-24 crew that is forced down in the jungles of Borneo toward the end of WWII. What starts out as a promising story ultimately fails to deliver. This is partly due to the large cast of characters, many whose names are unpronounceable, but also due to the lack of focus in the story itself.
Much of the book is spent describing the airmen playing cards and drinking with the natives. It becomes apparent early on that the headhunters in question, the Dayaks, are not savages but friendly tribal people who risk their own lives to protect the airmen.
There is plenty of opportunity for drama. The airmen are constantly being pursued by the Japanese. They suffer an assortment of ailments and disease. They nearly die from hunger, but these incidents are separated by long passages where not a whole lot is going on.
Instead of a story about a group of airmen who struggle against all odds to make it back to their home base and loved ones, you get the sense that they’re just sitting back waiting for the war to end or for someone to come rescue them, which in a way is what happens. here is a passage from the end of the book.
"Except for swimming, the Yanks in Long Berang had run out of things to do. Time was hanging heavily as they waited for things to happen, things over which they had no control." This passage could also describe the book.
There are many scenes where Japanese soldiers are tricked by the Dayaks and ultimately killed. But they are written in a matter-of-fact manner that when someone’s head is chopped off it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. It’s just another senseless killing, another tick in the body count.
Having written a book about an historical event myself, I know how difficult a task it is. This is a big story that required a great deal of work by the author. I congratulate her on the effort, but it didn’t quite get behind the story as much as I would have liked.