Saturday, October 17, 2015

"The Third Son" by Julie Wu

I knew nothing about Taiwan other than its geographical location when I picked up this book to read. Therefore, I had expectations of being more educated about Taiwan by the end of this book, perhaps a tad unfairly as it is historical fiction. However, I wasn't the least bit disappointed in the amount of tidbits I learned about Taiwan and its populace while reading the book, in fact, quite the opposite. It takes skill to keep me as interested as I was while giving a mini history lesson relevant to the story, so I was pleasantly surprised with the quickly paced beginning of the book.

I've never thought much about how the order of one's birth might affect their fortunes, but in Saburo's case, fortune was not on his side due to being the third son. The eldest is nearly always the inheritor of the best of everything in most cultures, but rarely have I ever recalled a younger son being treated with such disdain.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'It's 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival. Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history — as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.
'In Saburo, author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, a gentle soul forced to fight for everything he's ever wanted: food, an education, and his first love, Yoshiko. A sparkling, evocative debut, it will have readers cheering for this young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.'

Saburo and Yoshiko meet early in the novel, but you don't see much of them together until later, which is better in my opinion because you get to really know Saburo before he's enmeshed in a romance... unlike some of the books I read. This book really isn't a romance, but it does contain an unlikely (and almost fated) love story that doesn't distract from the 'coming to America' theme.

As a fierce opposer of child abuse, it's rare that I find a book that really captures the spirit of what a child goes through when a relative abuses them, but The Third Son was near perfection in that aspect. Children who've been abused often don't even realize there is anything different about their family until they grow older or get to see their friends have healthy relationships with their families. Saburo is one tough kid to have been able to not have his dreams demolished in the negative environment he grew up in.

The Third Son takes you on a roundabout journey to America- but along the way, you learn more about Taiwan than you'd expect. Many Americans have heard of the American dream, but the story of their own ancestors' version of those events is often lost to time, making The Third Son a worthwhile read for anyone who wishes to recreate the experience. I also recommend this book to anyone wishing to educate themselves on Taiwan, in addition to those interested in a coming of age story with a happily ever after.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent book that took me to Taiwan!

Content: Ages 16+ for child abuse, violence, and creepy family members.

Page Count: 320 pages

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