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Under the Pong Pong Tree
Hal Levey, author

A Chinese girl, Li Lian Goh, copes with life after the Japanese invade Singapore, destroy her family, and rape her savagely. They consign her to a military brothel, where she is impregnated by a cruel Japanese officer, Capt. Hideo Hoda, who ignores the house condom rule. Later, Hoda is killed by a marine on Guadalcanal. Li Lian escapes and gives birth to a daughter, named Maimunah, in a Malay village. The war ends, and Li Lian acquires a rubber plantation in the Malay state of Kelantan. She turns to drug trafficking, producing opiates from poppy paste provided by her confederate, Ku Hua, a devious opium dealer. She accumulates great wealth but becomes addicted to her own product. The action moves ahead to the period of the Vietnam war. Captain Mike Cagle, an American fighter pilot, is the target of an unsuccessful fragging by a drug-addled enlisted man. Cagle is grounded and sent to Singapore, where he teams up with Ralph Caruso, a CIA operative, to combat the drug traffic that is enticing servicemen on R&R leave. Mike meets Maimunah in her home village, and is dazzled by her beauty. They fall in love, but Mike must return to aerial combat in Vietnam. Their love survives the war, bringing the book to a satisfying conclusion.

Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.50 out of 10


This action-packed novel recounts the wages of wars and the war on drugs, asking why countries have historically relied on mass murder to settle differences of opinion. While the book features authentic descriptions that add to its lively pace, the inevitable love affair between American soldier Mike Cagle and Maimunah is riddled with stilted dialogue. The book’s pacing and plot development are steady and strong, until the abrupt and unlikely conclusion.

Date Submitted: June 06, 2016