The main character Louie has just been put in a Japanese prisoner of war camp where the conditions are barely livable. In this camp, there is rare or no talking because of this strict Japanese guards. This forced the prisoners to make another way of communicating made up of morse code using their hands and quiet whisper noises. Under this silence, Louie meets a marine officer named William Harris who has a photographic memory and is very intelligent. William makes a Japanese to English dictionary and Louie keeps a journal which they have to keep secret from the guards. The only way the prisoners can keep their pride in this horrible place is to be defiant.
One way they do this is saving stomach gases and letting them out when they are forced to bow for the Japanese emperor. They called this “farting for Hirohito.” Earlier when Louie was in another prisoner of war camp he added his name to a list on the wall which ended up helping another prisoner after him to survive because he heard one of the men survived on the list survived. Later that man met Louie. Before the war Louie was a runner and went to the olympics and when the guards heard this they brought in a Japanese runner to race Louie.
Although Louie was in horrible shape, he still beat the Japanese runner but was then literally beaten by the guards for winning. Louie was later offered a small amount of food to lose the next race which he does. Later, Phil, Louie’s pilot and friend gets taken away to another camp called Ashio. At home, Louie’s sister falls into a depression and when the family gets a telegram about Louie disappearing it makes it worse.
Louie is declared dead on May 28th 1944 but isn’t actually. Luckily, no one believes it. A fortune teller also tells Phil’s fiancée that he is still alive. Next, in 1944 during the summer Louie, Tinker, and Harris want to escape and think they can steal a plane to get back to allied territory. The only flaw in their plan is they can’t disguise themselves as a Japanese soldier because of the height difference.
However, they were going to go through with the plan since they are so desperate but one day before they do, the Japanese say if anyone escapes the camp they will kill everyone else that stayed behind. This forces them to cancel the plan. Instead, they look around in the head guard’s office without him knowing where they find a map.
Harris, the extremely smart one of the group copies what he sees onto a piece of toilet paper. The copy Harris made is discovered by the Japanese and Harris receives a severe beating for it which causes him to lose consciousness and when he wakes up he doesn’t remember who anyone is. Later, in September, Louie is transferred again to another camp called Omori.