When We Were Orphans
"When we were orphans" describes the life story of Christopher Banks, a famous private investigator in London.
Christopher Banks grew up as a boy in the International Settlement in Shanghai, and enjoyed his boyhood playing with his childhood friend and neighbour, Akira. When he was nine, first his father, then his mother, mysteriously disappeared. He believed that they were kidnapped by gangsters because of his mother's campaign against opium. When his parents failed to return, he was sent to England to boarding school, his school fees presumably paid for by a rich aunt in London.
Christopher, although a loner, did well academically and went to Cambridge University. He later became a private investigator and gained success and fame in his career. Conscious of his status as an orphan, he falls in love with Sarah Hemmings, an ambitious socialite, who his also an orphan. He also becomes guardian to a young orphan girl Jennifer.
Eventually, he decides to visit Shanghai, to solve the mystery of his parents' mysterious disappearance. In Shanghai, Christopher visits the house in which he grew up, reminiscing his idyllic and innocent childhood. He has the delusion that his parents are still held in the house into which they were first kidnapped. In searching for that house, he encounters his childhood friend Akira. Although Akira vehemently hated Japan when he was a boy, he is now fighting in the war with the Japanese against the Chinese. Both friends still remember and treasure their childhood friendship.
Finally Christopher meets with an old family friend and learns the bitter truth about his parents' disappearance. His father ran away with a mistress. His mother had insulted a Chinese gangster, Wang Ku, by slapping him. Wang Ku was furious and captured his mother as a slave. His mother managed to bargain with Wang Ku her full obediance in return for money for Christopher's education. Christopher learns of the great sacrifice his mother made for him. After the war, he continues his detective work and finds his mother in a mental asylum in Hong Kong, as Wang Ku has since passed away. His mother's senses are now gone, she no longer recognizes him.
Much of the action appears ridiculous, such as searching for the house in which his parents were kidnapped. However the story is well written such that we are captivated by the character Christopher Banks, and enjoy reading about his thoughts and emotions.