It’s been a hard decision to decide what books to bring for my holidays in Middle East. Usually most of my holidays are city breaks and I would rather soak in everything in the foreign land rather than bury my head on my books while I am travelling.
I am new to this ARC review business. This book is not due to publish until 30 April and I am not sure if there is a rule that says I shouldn’t publish a ARC review one month before the book is actually published? (some publisher do discourage it).
What draws me to the book was the mention of Taiwan. I have yet to read a book from Taiwan and what do I know about Taiwan? All I know about the country is that its founding members are the Nationalist Army led by Chiang Kai Shek after the defeat by the Communists from Mainland China. I know very little.
It is 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo (Chinese name: Tong Chialin) walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favoured 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 Kazuo. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose picture of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise and Saburo fell in love with Yoshiko. Due to the defeat of Japanese and the arrival of the Nationalist Army Saburo did not see Yoshiko again and for years he will try to find her again.
Will the least favoured son in the family release from the grasp of his family’s condescending treatment? Will Saburo find Yoshiko again? I found the answers after waiting for the flight home from Amman and a 4-hour flight. I finished the book.
I was deeply aware of my ignorance in several levels about Taiwan’s history through this book.
I was surprised that Taiwan was occupied by Japanese for 50 years, from 1895 to 1945, at least two generations of Taiwanese are imbued in Japanese education and culture. I was also surprised to hear that the Kuomintang party had committed so much atrocities to dissidents and the natives of the island didn’t exactly welcome their own kind after the Japanese occupation with open arms. Incidents such as White Terror was mentioned. In Taiwan, the White Terror (白色恐怖) describes the suppression of political dissidents, as well as public discussion of the 228 Incident in Taiwan under the period of martial law, which lasted from May 19, 1949 to July 15, 1987, 38 years, and 57 days. 140,000 Taiwanese was imprisoned and many more were massacred during the uprising in 1947.
I read with a sense of cognizant how cruel family can be towards their least favourite child. The best food went to Saburo’s older brother during food rationing so much so that he was diagnosed as malnourished. The best education is given to Kazuo but not to Saburo. Saburo’s plight in the story while growing up is the part that moved me most. I hope I am being fair to my children. It is a taboo to discuss, to mention or to think that out of our many children perhaps there may be one that is “the favourite”. But it does happen.
Under the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Japanese, and now the Mainland Chinese.
In an oppressed society, there are three main means of survival. There is the farmer’s way, plowing on as he was for centuries, his hat shadowing his face. There is my father’s method, of opportunism. And then there are those who cannot or will not accept things as they are. Like Yoshiko’s mother, who came down the om the mountains, and the Taoyuan magistrate, who was killed, they must either speak up or leave and seek freedom elsewhere. This last option, I was increasingly beginning to feel, would be my way. – Saburo
The formatting of ARC kindle copies are not great. There are sections with no apparent paragraph break which I find a little disoriented. The epistolary section from wife’s Yoshiko’s letter is fine but it is always Yoshiko’s letters that are being featured not Saburo’s, I thought it was a little lopsided. The plotting was good but the writing is ok, it didn’t give the book the “wow” factor that it deserves with such a stunning country setting and colourful characters.
I was in that sky, cutting down path through the rippling patterns of clouds, through the layers of stratified gases, to a land where no one knew me. [..] From now on, all that mattered was the man I was now and the man I planned to be.
Mirroring an oppressed child in a family of an oppressed country it provides a parallel that are both intriguing and tragic. The Third Son is also an immigration story. I thought the last third of the book depicting the struggle of Saburo to bring his wife over to the America and his resolution to free himself from the shackles of family expectation was good. It is a fight that requires great courage under the Confucian filial piety demands that the son is supposed to give to their parents in the Chinese culture. As Saburo said, it is not always about love, but it’s about Duty. Honour. Respect.
A wound that never healed. A promise never to be fulfilled. That was family.
The book will be published in the 30 April 2013 in North America. I am not sure if it will be available in the UK. It is a good introduction to Taiwan history and an entertaining read.
Kindle copy. Publisher: Algonquin 30 April 2013; Length: 320 pages; Setting: Taiwan and America. Source: Kindle copy. Finished reading on: 17th February 2013.
About the writer:
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 is the recipient of a 2012 Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship.