"The giant banyan trees, palm trees and banana trees dotted the landscape. The whole landscape looked so lush and green, so beautiful! Now I understand why many people called Taiwan the Treasure Island."

Action and intrigue are plentiful in Cheng’s personal narrative of events that unfold during his childhood years in China. The book centers on the author’s tragedies and triumphs of growing up amid the turmoil of China’s 1937 war with Japan. Cheng and his family move from shelter to shelter in villages and cities throughout China to escape the Japanese encroachment. His father (BaBa), a military leader in Chiang Kai–Shek’s Nationalist Army, is called to the frontlines, leaving Cheng and his mother to fend for themselves. Cheng and his parents confront food and medical shortages, makeshift living arrangements, robberies, murders, sickness, death, and perilous journeys. No sooner than the Japanese surrender, another war is brewing: China’s civil war between the Nationalists and Communists. Mao’s Red Army advances through China, capturing major coastal cities. Subsequently, Cheng’s father is relocated to Fujian Province, the Nationalist Army’s last stronghold. Surrounded by Communist agents, the Cheng family narrowly escapes the incursion as they seek safety in Taiwan through the South China Sea.

The author, writing in the first-person present, displays a keen remembrance for detailed conversations and experiences as he speaks through the voice of his childhood. A master of figurative prose, Cheng’s skillful use of imagery draws the reader into the moment, such as “At night, I watched the city glowing with thousands of dazzling incandescent and neon lights, like hundreds of tiny candles on a big cake.” His intricate descriptions of people, places, and events create a moving picture of conditions in China before the Communist conquest. Cheng connects China’s present with the past by interjecting historical facts, and each chapter leaves the reader in anticipation. Captivating, heartrending, and emotive, this true story of human survival during China’s two overlapping conflicts will leave an indelible mark on its readers.

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