26 April 2013

Imprint Friday: The Third Son by Julie Wu

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

If you're like most Americans, you don't know much about Taiwanese history, the 228 Massacre, the White Terror, or what it might have been like to grow up in an island country whose ruling powers and party seemed to change with the seasons. Even Julie Wu, first-generation American, didn't know much about her parents' childhoods, until, in her thirties, she finally sat down with her father and a recorder and learned the details of his life.

Her debut novel, The Third Son, was inspired by her father's stories and is founded on solid research. Here's the publisher's summary:

In the middle of a terrifying air raid in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, runs through a peach forest for cover. It s there that he stumbles upon 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 and the fast-changing American West of the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Third Son is a richly textured 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, debut author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character who is determined to fight for everything he needs and wants, from food to education to his first love. A sparkling and moving story, it will have readers cheering for a young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America's space program.
Like many of you, I've been a fan of Asian American stories starting with Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, which I read way back in the late 1970s. Since then, I've read Amy Tan, Lisa See, and many other authors who talk about the difficulties of immigration and assimilation to American culture as well as the horrors of war and rebellion.

So what's different about The Third Son? Lots. First, this is a story about how an unloved boy grows into a successful man, despite the odds. It's about the strength of cultural bonds and how difficult it is to break them, especially if you have no support. It's about the basic need we all have for love and tenderness. And it's about the incredible power that stems from having just one person believe in you.

Although the details are historically correct and the characters are the product of a constantly changing Taiwan, The Third Son is not as much about politics and war as it is about Saburo's journey to freedom, in all its many guises. In fictionalizing her father's story, Wu was careful not to idealize Saburo: he is sometimes weak and too naive, he tries to be a good son long after his parents fail to deserve his filial piety, and he is sometimes timid. Yet, just when most people would give up, he calls on his stubborn streak, forcing himself to do the seemingly impossible.

I'm not sure any book has had the power to distract me from my workday as much as The Third Son did. I started it one evening and sometime the next morning, I put aside everything else to finish the novel in one go.

Saburo is such an incredible character that I couldn't stop thinking about him. His family life broke my heart, and his early experiences in America were fascinating. Although Tiawan was hardly in the backwaters of the world, they were years behind in everyday modern technology. That even poor students could have an electric refrigerator/freezer in their apartment was a thing of wonder.

In addition, although Saburo could speak English, he was not well versed in American culture and social behavior. I particularly loved his reactions to the many firsts--from tasting sugary soda to wearing shoes in the house to seeing American wildlife. I won't soon forget his slow awakening to what America and personal freedom could give him.

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.

For more about Julie Wu and The Third Son, read this in-depth interview at Taiwanese American and request a copy the Algonquin Reader and read her amazing essay "Listening to Dad" (NB: I'm not sure if the reader is still available). Don't forget to visit Wu's website, which includes her tour schedule and blog. You can also like her Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011. Don't forget to follow Algonquin on Twitter and Facebook and read their blog (where you can sign up for the Algonquin newsletter).

Buy The Third Son at an indie or at a bookstore near you. (Link leads to an affiliate program.)
Published by Workman / Algonquin Books 2013
ISBN-13: 9781616200794

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


Sandy Nawrot 4/26/13, 6:59 AM  

This sounds amazing! I don't know about you, but I really appreciate a book that TEACHES me something. I like to escape but I prefer to escape to a place I know nothing about and can expand my knowledge. And I know nothing about this country or its people. I'm going to try to find this one.

Anonymous,  4/26/13, 8:22 AM  

I been waiting for this debut. I can't wait to read it! Wonderful review!

rhapsodyinbooks 4/26/13, 8:33 AM  

I agree many Americans don't know much history about the whole East Asian region generally. Pretty astounding.

bermudaonion 4/26/13, 8:59 AM  

Holy cow, but you've made this sound fantastic! I feel like I need to order it right now!

Anonymous,  4/26/13, 9:21 AM  

I loved The Third Son too. Saburo was a great character, but I also loved Yoshiko and her spirit. Great post!

Jenn's Bookshelves 4/26/13, 10:08 AM  

This sounds absolutely fascinating!

Beth Hoffman 4/26/13, 10:41 AM  

You've sold me! I know next to nothing about Taiwanese history and this book is, as of this moment, on my list.

The Relentless Reader 4/26/13, 11:50 AM  

This sounds like something I would absolutely love!! I'm so glad you've brought it to my attention. Thank you!

Barbara 4/26/13, 2:16 PM  

Great review. I don't think I would have been interested in this one if I hadn't read how excited you are about it. Now it's on my list.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 4/28/13, 9:09 AM  

Amy Tan, Lisa See, enjoy their books. This one sounds incredible. I will be looking for it.

Julie P. 4/29/13, 2:45 PM  

I NEED to get my hands on this one soon!

Michele 5/2/13, 11:50 AM  

This book sounds absolutely amazing....I'm hooked....(heads off to library to place a hold)

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