Title: The Boy from Clearwater: Book 1
Author: Yu Pei-Yun
Series: The Boy from Clearwater
Major Themes: Taiwan, True Stories, Biographies
Synopsis: The true story of a young man who grew up in Taiwan in the 1930s – 1950s, telling of his life as a youngster up through his unjust imprisonment as a 21-year-old.
Having become increasingly more intrigued by graphic novels over the past few months, I’ve found myself more on the lookout for books in the genre that could potentially be interesting or teach me something. When I saw a listing for The Boy from Clearwater: Book 1 recently, I knew I wanted to read it. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever read one or two books set in Taiwan, and my knowledge of the island’s history (even modern history) is scanty at best. When I saw that this was a true story, and even better than that, told a lot of history, I wanted to read it!
An incredible true story in graphic novel form that lays bare the tortured and triumphant history of Taiwan, an island claimed and fought over by many countries, through the life story of a man who lived through its most turbulent times.
Part One: Taiwan, 1930s. Tsai Kun-lin, an ordinary boy born in Qingshui, recounts a carefree childhood despite the Japanese occupation: growing up happily with the company of nursery rhymes and picture books on Qingshui Street. As war emerges Tsai’s memories shift to military parades, air raids, and watching others face conscription into the army. It seems no one can escape. After the war, the book-loving teenager tries hard to learn Mandarin and believes he is finally stepping towards a comfortable future; but little does he know, a dark cloud awaits him ahead.
Part Two: Taiwan, 1950s. In his second year at Taichung First Senior High School, Tsai is arrested simply for joining a book club and subsequently tortured, deprived of civil rights, and sent to Green Island for “reformation.” Lasting until his release in September 1960, Tsai, a victim of the White Terror era, spends ten years of his youth in prison on an unjust charge. But he is ready to embrace freedom.
Told in a matter-of-fact manner, The Boy from Clearwater is a gripping, heart-wrenching tale of a boy and young man growing up in turbulent times. I had a little trouble keeping all the Japanese and Chinese names straight (more because of their unfamiliarity than anything else), but what wasn’t hard was being able to understand where the main character was coming from and the times in which he grew up. It was interesting to get a peek into his home life in the 1930s—from how they ate, to what school was like, to the way the family worshipped, as well as some of the more major events like the earthquake in 1935 that killed thousands of people and severely damaged Tsai Kun-lin’s family’s home.
This isn’t an easy story to read, but I believe it is an important one. It’s hard to imagine some of these things happening to someone about the same age as my grandparents (especially the part of the story about being sent to prison for ten years for joining a book club). At the same time, while it’s hard to comprehend that people can be so cruel, it’s also good to get a little perspective on what the world has looked like for many people in recent history. I feel like I learned a lot from this story, and I hope I’ll have a chance to read book two, which will be released in May 2024. Book two is expected to contain parts three and four of this story. If you’re interested in history, like reading about different cultures and other people’s experiences, and also enjoy graphic novels (I really enjoyed the illustration style in this book!), this true story is one you should check out.
I was given a complimentary copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: I was not able to get specific locations for warnings since I read an ebook with no page numbers. Part 1: Worshiping at shrines, a few references to ancestors in a worshipful manner, “thank goodness”, children are disobedient, children are taught self-defense, a boy is bullied, picture of bombs being dropped and boys running from bombers, pictures of bombed buildings, illustration of people being shot at the February 28 Incident, illustration of a woman who died from an illness. Part 2: Smoking, a man being interrogated, “f*** you” (this is how it was printed on the page), man being tortured (kicked, burned with a cigarette butt, electrocuted), “dammit”, someone forces someone to sign a false confession letter, depiction of a man using a chamber pot (you see the stream of liquid, but not nudity), a mention of people being called up to be executed, people worshiping at a temple, boy writes a letter in his own blood, multiple illustrations of men with their shirts off, a two-page spread depicting people with their clothes off where they are apparently bathing (mostly viewed from behind), an illustration of women with breasts uncovered, illustration of a woman dancing (not completely modest), mention of a man who committed suicide, people told that some fellow prisoners were executed, and near the end, someone finds out someone they know committed suicide.
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15, 15 and Above, Adults