Jim, an eleven year old boy, and his parents are living in a wealthy European area in Shanghai during World War II. The novel begins the evening before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Most of the European families had already been evacuated from China, and there were many scrambling to get aboard ships even with the threat of German submarines near the Yangtze River. Jim and his family, on this night, were planning to attend a Christmas party at a friend, Dr. Lockwood's house.
Everywhere in the city people were watching movie reels of the war. Even Jim, after church the Sunday morning of December 7th, was taken down to the crypt of the church with the other choir boys and forced to watch reels of the war before they could go home.
[...] Jim never understood how her family could all survive living in one room that was the size of his dressing room, and he enjoyed subtly teasing her by asking her about the size of the room over and over again while she helped pick out his silk shirt and velvet trousers. When Jim was ready for the party he went downstairs and his parents were studying the map figuring the Germans would be in Moscow by Christmas. His father had been spending much more time with him lately. [...]
[...] Even though Basie uses Jim for whatever he needs to survive, Jim is saved repeatedly by the help of Basie. Without Basie Jim never would have survived this long. Chapter 39 Summary Basie and the others in the gang took Jim and used him for a scout. Whenever they went to a village or area that they thought they could salvage something to sell Jim would be sent ahead just in case someone was there to fire at them. Close to the Lunghau camp they got caught in the middle of a battle between the Chinese Communist soldiers and the Chinese Kuomintang soldiers. [...]
[...] Waiting for them to find him and put the pieces of his life back together. Jim is a picaresque character in that he is a young character that learns about the harsh realities of life fast and does whatever he has to do to survive. His has become savvy in the ways of survival and given up on hopes for finding his parents. Chapter 21 Summary Jim takes the turtle back to his room which he shares with two other people and he lets the turtle walk around on his straw bunk. [...]
[...] He looked at the talcum powder on the floor and thought had moved from side to side, propelled by an overeager partner, perhaps on of the Japanese officers to whom she was teaching the tango.” After a few days Jim realized his parents were not coming home and decided to go out to some of his friend's homes. He found them all in disarray with people looting and he was even struck hard on the face by a former servant, called an Amah. [...]
[...] This is symbolic because the symbol of Japan is the rising sun and the atom bomb exploding looked like the sum. None of the prisoners of war know what to do or where to go because they have been imprisoned and relied on the Japanese for so long. Chapter 33 Summary Not knowing where to go or what to do, and having no energy to walk to Shanghai Jim went back to the airfield at Lunghau. There he saw a young Japanese pilot cutting at the tall grass and Jim thought maybe he was clearing a space for a Japanese helicopter or they had some secret weapon like the American's atom bomb. [...]
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