* 2021 Taipei Book Fair Award
The true story of Tsai Kun-lin, born in Qingshui, Taichung, in 1930, as he lives through Japanese rule and the arrival of the Kuomintang. Polite and a good student, Tsai found himself sentenced to ten years in jail for “membership of an illegal organization” after attending a high school book club. This graphic novel recounts his tenacity and determination.
The 1930s, Japanese-ruled Taiwan. A young boy, Tsai Kun-lin grows up, accompanied by picture books and folk tales. But the merciless flames of World War 2 soon arrive – protests, bombing and conscription will change his life forever.
After the war, the young booklover learns a new language and hopes to finally live a life of peace, never expecting his attendance at a high school book club will land him in jail. Transported to the penal colony for political prisoners on Green Island, he loses ten years of his youth to torture, terror, hard labor, and brainwashing.
This series of graphic novels draws on the actual events of Tsai’s life. At Taichung First Senior High School he was a trainee soldier and a good student; years later he was sentenced to ten years in prison for attending a high school book club. On release he worked in publishing and advertising, and founded Prince, a children’s magazine which kept Taiwan’s cartooning tradition alive during martial law. He raised funds to allow a rural little league team to compete in Taipei and, on retirement, became a human rights activist.
Tsai’s life is Taiwan’s recent history writ small. There is darkness, but always a light; hardship, but always the strength to endure. A simple yet graceful style faithfully recreates the historical scenes, with the accurate use of the Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese languages bringing those times to life. The warmth and vitality of the storytelling demonstrate that while we cannot control events, we can, as Tsai did, persevere through them.