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The Third Son: A Novel

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Overview

“Clear your schedule! The Third Son is your next obsessive read. Julie Wu’s book reads like an instant classic.” —Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine

In the middle of a terrifying air raid in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, runs through a forest for cover. It’s there he stumbles on Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a...

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Overview

“Clear your schedule! The Third Son is your next obsessive read. Julie Wu’s book reads like an instant classic.” —Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine

In the middle of a terrifying air raid in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, runs through a forest for cover. It’s there he stumbles on 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.

In Saburo, author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, determined to fight for everything he needs and wants, from food to education to his first love. The Third Son is a sparkling and moving story about a young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.

“An appealing coming-of-age story packed with vivid historical detail.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“A boy growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1940s will do anything to escape his tormenting family and reconnect with his first love in this compelling work of fiction.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“Deceptively simple, deeply compelling . . . An unusually awful sibling rivalry, a stunningly pure and inspiring love story.” —The Boston Globe

“Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page to the last.” —Kirkus Reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A boy growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1940s will do anything to escape his tormenting family and reconnect with his first love in this compelling work of fiction.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“A stunningly pure and inspiring love story . . . Deeply compelling.” —The Boston Globe

“Wu's debut novel is an appealing coming-of-age story packed with vivid historical detail.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page to the last.” —Kirkus Reviews

“You may have read other Asian American historical novels, but you've never read anything like Julie Wu's affecting and emotional The Third Son. It's one of the don't-miss books of the year.” —Beth Fish Reads

“With great authority and skill, Wu depicts not just the grand events of the era, such as the Kuomintang (KMT)'s arrival in Taiwan and the brutal occupation that followed, but also the small, private moments of life . . . The Third Son should be the start of a very successful writing career for Julie Wu, and I hope she will not need long to write her next novel—I'm excited to read it.” —Fiction Writers Review

Review

"A boy growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1940s will do anything to escape his tormenting family and reconnect with his first love in this compelling work of fiction." --O, The Oprah Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Wu's debut convincingly depicts a third-born son's struggle to overcome his feelings of worthlessness and insecurity as he journeys from Taiwan to America in pursuit of freedom and accomplishment. Saburo's father is a prominent businessman and politician, and the family reaps the benefits of his position in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. Eight-year-old Saburo realizes that, as the third son, he'll never attain an exalted position within the family; in fact, he's the family's scapegoat. Each day when he returns home, he's beaten, berated and accused of causing his younger brother's death, and although the young boy inwardly questions why he's the object of so much hatred, he accepts his treatment. In the midst of a World War II air raid, Saburo saves a girl's life. He's immediately smitten by Yoshiko's beauty and frequently dreams of her, but many years pass before they meet again. The intervening years harbor a new era in Taiwan: Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalists are the ruling force in the country, and those who oppose their policies face death. Meanwhile, Saburo has suffered further misfortune and abuses. He's denied the educational opportunities his other brothers are given and must work to educate himself; he's bitten by a venomous snake; and he almost dies of malnutrition when his mother denies him a fair portion of the family's rations. When Saburo and Yoshiko cross paths again, she's not only more beautiful than he remembers, but she's also the object of his oldest brother Kazuo's desire. Saburo's Uncle Toru, a guiding influence in his life, encourages his nephew to pursue his dreams, and Saburo finally takes his advice to heart. His persistence wins Yoshiko over (although it increases Kazuo's hatred toward him) and provides Saburo with the impetus to work toward his educational goals. Against all odds, he becomes the student from his county to receive a coveted invitation to study in the United States. Although he must leave Yoshiko and his infant son behind, Saburo makes the journey and faces new challenges--including his loved ones' illnesses, the threatening presence of Chinese agents who monitor his moves, racism, and decisions about his personal and professional future. Each obstacle serves to strengthen Saburo's resolve to become a financially independent and emotionally strong husband, father and person. Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers' empathy from the first page to the last.
Reviews
“A boy growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1940s will do anything to escape his tormenting family and reconnect with his first love in this compelling work of fiction.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“A stunningly pure and inspiring love story . . . Deeply compelling.” —The Boston Globe

“Wu's debut novel is an appealing coming-of-age story packed with vivid historical detail.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page to the last.” —Kirkus Reviews

“You may have read other Asian American historical novels, but you've never read anything like Julie Wu's affecting and emotional The Third Son. It's one of the don't-miss books of the year.” —Beth Fish Reads

“With great authority and skill, Wu depicts not just the grand events of the era, such as the Kuomintang (KMT)'s arrival in Taiwan and the brutal occupation that followed, but also the small, private moments of life . . . The Third Son should be the start of a very successful writing career for Julie Wu, and I hope she will not need long to write her next novel—I'm excited to read it.” —Fiction Writers Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616200794
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,165,575
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Literature, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Julie Wu received an MD at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. She has received a writing grant from the Vermont Studio Center and won a 2012 Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship. Her website is www.juliewuauthor.com. 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 14, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A fascinating view of Taiwan. I had never read any literature f

    A fascinating view of Taiwan.

    I had never read any literature from Taiwan and Julie Wu did not disappoint.
    The narrative begins in 1943, towards the end of the 50 year rule of Taiwan by the Japanese. Suddenly Saburo must change his Japanese name back to the Chinese, Tong Chialin. All the Japanese school books are removed from the classes and replaced by Chinese ones.

    Saburo is the third son of a Taiwanese family and this, combined with the fact that he was caring for his younger brother when he died, means that his share of everything, food love and education, is reduced to the bare minimum. If it weren't for the care of his cousin, Toru, who is a doctor, he would probably have died of malnutriton.
    It was during the bombing of their town by American bombers, that 8 year old Saburo meets Yoshiko. She is fleeing the bullets from a jet plane, protected by just her writng board above her head. She describes her family, and for the first time Saburo becomes aware that there are such things as happy families.
    Although his schooling is intermittent, Saburo is a determined scholar. He sees education as a way out of his situation. But how far can a downtrodden young Taiwanese lad go without the support of his family?

    As I had hoped, this was not just a story of a young Taiwanese boy, although this part was well done - it was also an insight into the life and and experiences of the people in that time and place. I have definitely learned a lot about the country through reading this and hope that the author will go on to write other books set in Taiwan.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 25, 2013

    What a fascinating story  -- and how refreshing to find a first-

    What a fascinating story  -- and how refreshing to find a first-person narrative that so convincingly carries the resonance of reality!  I felt completely enmeshed in Saburo's world from the first scene:  his story is told much like how a real person who has lead a fascinating life would actually tell his own story has had me recommending this book to random strangers in bookstores.

    Why?  Well, even very good character-based fiction set against the backdrop of great social and political upheaval will stray from the protagonist's private world in a way that can feel extraneous to the experience of someone who actually lived through those events.  

    In THE THIRD SON, though, the narrative gives those events the precise heft they would have realistically had in Saburo's life.  A childhood encounter with a snake leaps off the page with nightmare vividness.  A change in political regime is depicted primarily through the suddenly arbitrary actions of the protagonist's schoolteacher.  An act of kindness leaps out as the only thing that's important to remember about a particular year.  It's an especially effective tactic in the early chapters, where our little hero encounters some pretty disturbing abuse.  

    The overall effect? The reader enjoys the unusual pleasure of feeling as though she's eavesdropping directly upon his memories. And isn't that one of the great tests of first-person fiction, ultimately?  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Book!

    Very good book. Could not put it down. Just wish it was longer because I did not want the story to end.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2014

    Warning: Make sure you have ample reading time to spare when yo

    Warning: Make sure you have ample reading time to spare when you start this because you won't be able to put it down! Julie Wu seems to be quite knowledgeable about the political climate at the time, as well as the culture and attitudes of its people. Fascinating read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 25, 2014

    Very Enjoyable

    This is a well written book that has the sound of a biography. It doesn't always give the motivation behind the main characters actions, just that they were done, in the way that most people make decisions. It is quite a good coming of age story with maybe a bit more extremes of lows than a normal life. The addition of the history of Taiwan adds a lot of character to the story. I'm definitely glad I read it!!!

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