William "Bill" Pinebrook's journey to manhood starts as a result of WWII in the colonial Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The story begins with a brief history of the generations before him and the hardships and challenges they endured. Bill recounts the joy he felt as a boy living in the hot, humid tropical island that smelt of a fresh fruit salad. He shares memories of a happy life which is his paradise. His good times with the local children, playing with animals he loved, and adventures with his cousins would soon end abruptly.
As the Japanese enter Java during WWII, the streets that had once been busy with locals sharing stories and joking among themselves, and vendors selling fragrant, freshly made sate and sados, become forbidding roads with Japanese soldiers carrying rifles and demanding people bow when they would approach. The feeling of joy turns into fear and uncertainty. As the Japanese engulf the island, the Dutch, Indonesians, and Indo-European citizens' customs and traditions are denied.
Life changes dramatically and Bill recounts the fear and turmoil he feels as a prisoner in both Camp Tjideng and Camp Tjimahi. The writing details the journey as Bill moves from Camp Tjideng, the women and children's camp, with an unexpected and abrupt departure to Camp Tjimahi, the men and boys' camp. The road to manhood is accelerated.
Finding his mother and sister after the war, Bill is assisted by a British soldier in securing safe passage out of the chaos of the Indonesians' fight for independence. Bill, along with his mother and sister, become refugees in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He describes how his life and actions after the war are influenced by events both prior to and after life in the Japanese internment camps.
As a refugee, Bill shares the feeling of being a child again with the freedoms and adventures he can now have. His family is reunited with his father in an environment Bill had briefly experienced as a young boy—the Netherlands. Now this will be his home and he is apprehensive. With impressive resilience, he will adapt and succeed in his endeavors.
The hardships and blessings before, during, and after the war are woven into this vivid journey. The book traces the lasting effects of war by recounting the loss of innocence in Bill's childhood as he becomes a survivor.