“The way it is? Everyone comes into the world naked. Then why are some born to be called ‘master’ and others born to be called ‘dog’?” So speaks Liu Ahan, the young soldier who represents the resilient Taiwanese spirit beset by physical, cultural, and political challenges of the twentieth century.
Written over five years, Qiao’s first and third volumes in a series are included in this one book spanning Taiwan’s history from the late 19th to the end of Japanese occupation during World War II. “Wintry Night” is the title of the entire collection and the title of the first volume, which sensitively and enticingly presents the Peng family’s tribulations and gratifications as they attempt to settle into what is to become Hakka territory in central Taiwan around the city of Miao-li. “The Lone Lamp,” the third volume, concerns sheer survival for these same people and their descendants as first manipulative, corrupt overlords and then the devastating Japanese takeover threatens their very livelihood.
The highlights of this novel are the physical and cultural obstacles the Hakka and aboriginal people have dauntingly surmounted and their growing awareness of a proud national identity. The reader cannot help but be drawn into the family struggles, alternately cheering on and resisting the consistently unfair and horrifically cruel battles endured by those who attempt to live a life of integrity and endurance. The second volume, “The Deserted Village,” which has not been included in this text, recounts the anti-Japanese activities of Liu Ahan and ends with his death shortly after being released from a Japanese prison. Including this aspect of Asian history too often underplayed or even ignored, this novel is classic historical fiction presented in a very real and intriguingly perceptive style. A masterpiece!