Saturday, July 21, 2012

Excerpt from Back to Bataan by Jerome Charyn

Back to Bataan Summary:

New York City, 1943. War is raging in Europe and the Pacific, while Jack Dalton is stuck attending Dutch Masters Day School. What Jack really wants is to enlist in the army, to fight...

Everything changes when Coco, Jack's "fiancee," throws him over for one of his classmates. Jack sees red and does something drastic. Then he runs away. Hiding out in a nearby park, Jack joins ranks with a group of vagrants and is soon under the sway of a man called the Leader, an ex-convict who is as articulate and charismatic as he is dangerous. The Leader turns Jack's world upside down. To put things right, Jack must prove himself a braver soldier than he ever imagined.


Mauricette told Harriet Godwin I was the pig of the class. I had treated her like garbage. Mauricette wouldn't answer my phone calls. She wouldn't read the notes I dropped inside her desk. But Arturo Fink kept reminding her who she was. “Fiancée,” he said. “Jack’s fiancée.”

I promised myself I wouldn't write anymore compositions, but how could I graduate from Dr. Franklin's class and join General MacArthur?

It felt lonely without a fiancée.

Mauricette began seeing Barnaby Rosenstock after school. They were holding hands and having chocolate malteds at the Sugar Bowl on Seventy-ninth Street. Fat Arturo was eating two ice-cream sodas. The Sugar Bowl is our hangout. It’s the official candy store of Dutch Masters Day School. I didn’t have money for ice-cream sodas. I didn’t have money for malteds. I'd buy a Hershey bar or some Chuckles once a week. I'd peek at the comic book rack and wonder what was happening to Captain Marvel or the Sub-Mariner. Marvel and the Sub-Mariner were already at war, fighting Japs. And when Mauricette was still my fiancée, I'd sit with her over a glass of water and treat her to some candy whenever I could. But now she was sucking malteds with Barnaby Rosenstock. I could hear her from my corner, next to the comic book rack.

“Oh, Jack Dalton,” she said. “He has a wild imagination. He likes to fling words around. He thinks half the school is going to marry him.”

She didn’t have to shame me in front of her friends. Arturo was laughing into his fat cheeks. Barnaby had a chocolate rainbow on his lips. I didn’t even bother with the comic books. Marvel would have to fight the Japs without me. I walked home.

Mama was at the factory. She makes parachutes. Sometimes she’d bring home a little piece of silk left over from one of the chutes. That's how I get my handkerchiefs. Not even Arturo with all his father’s money has a handkerchief of genuine silk. But handkerchiefs couldn’t make me feel good. Silk is only silk. I wondered about the American fliers who had their planes shot down and had to fall into the dark wearing some of that silk.

I couldn’t concentrate on my homework. It didn't seem important when you considered all the Japs and Germans out there. I hope General MacArthur takes me with him to Bataan. I’m not asking for a Purple Heart. I'm only asking to kill Japs. And if I have to die, I want to die near my dad...

Mama came home at seven. The streets from my window looked so dark, I thought the world had gone gray. I didn’t care. I wouldn’t mind going to school after midnight.

“Darling,” Mama said, “what’s wrong?”

I couldn't tell her how I lost a fiancée, because she would have figured I was insane.

“Mama, I’m blue...that's all.”

“You’re still dreaming of the Army, aren’t you? We'll have dinner and listen to the radio, my little blue boy.”

We had soup and bread and boiled potatoes and peas out of a can. It’s not Mama’s fault if meat is rationed and sugar is rationed. No one can inherit ration stamps, not even the President or Arturo’s dad.

We listened to Jack Benny. He played the violin and talked about the Japs. Mama laughed, because Jack Benny is the biggest miser in the world. He would never spend a nickel. But he told everybody to buy war bonds.

“What about you, Mr. Benny?”

Mama told me it was time for bed.

I put on my pajamas. But I didn't feel like sleeping. I dialed Mauricette’s number and let the telephone ring. Somebody picked up the phone.

“It’s me,” I said. “Jack Dalton. Your former fiancé. Coco, are you there? I wanted to—”

Mauricette hung up. And I wondered who was lonelier. The dead cowboys on Bataan, or young Jack Dalton.

Jerome Charyn's Bio:

Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”

New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”

Since 1964, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

Charyn lives in Paris and New York City.

Jerome Charyn's Website:


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