A Mosaic Heart

mosaicAs I scan across the room to my four children, like any other parent, I cannot imagine waking up to a day with one of them gone.  The task of carrying the family through such a loss and continuing with our daily lives of music lessons, karate, school work seems not just impossible, but surreal.  How do you fix breakfast, do the laundry, manage the homework and maintain the evening taxi shuttle when one sibling has died?  Every part of my existence that I complain about, these mundane and often irritating aspects of everyday life, seem nihilistic in the absence of one of my children.  Every apple cut, every shirt folded, would wash over the ever present gravestone in my mind.

Now:  repeat this nightmare times two.  The image of burying a second child invokes rage against the Fates, my God, your God and all of humanity.  It should not be possible, not permissible.  Unfortunately, parents of children with lethal genetic disorders see their children’s lives differently from those of us who find the coughs and colds of childhood as winter annoyances.  Reality faces these parents down with cruel certainty.  How and why are clear; when is today, maybe tomorrow, maybe not.

While touring Books in the Park, a literary festival in Norfolk last Fall, I casually asked Terry Jones-Brady, “Tell me about your book.”  With honesty and frankness, she detailed for me her two daughters’ lives, each ultimately overtaken by cystic fibrosis.  I silently wondered how horrifying it must have been for her younger daughter to wake up the morning after her sister’s funeral, knowing what genetics had predetermined for her.  Jones-Brady’s memoir, A Mosaic Heart: Reshaping the Shards of a Shattered Life, describes her life coping with this heartbreaking eventuality.  Ultimately left alone by her husband’s suicide, Terry Jones-Brady took to her computer to reshape her life.  The most unlikely of emotions emerges in conclusion:  joy. 

In sharing her experiences, Terry Jones-Brady has won the William Brenner Nonfiction Prize at the Hampton Roads Annual Writers’ Conference in 2010, a Silver Prize in the category of Grief/Death and Dying in the 2012 Nautilus Book Awards and Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Southeast Book Festival.  A Mosaic Heart may be purchased locally from Prince Books as well as from regional vendors, Shooting Star Gallery, Page after Page and Amazon.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

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The Third Son

Family.

A wound that never healed.  A promise never to be fulfilled.

That was family.

 WU_ThirdSon_3D_LR1I’ve been friends with people who were not spanked, but beaten, as children, others who still suffer from the memories of childhood sexual abuse and countless numbers who hear the echoes of parental verbal abuse long into adulthood.  Despite these indelible scars, I’ve known very few to permanently sever ties with their parental offenders.  There’s always the childlike hope of reconciliation, of that one last expression of love.

In Julie Wu’s The Third Son, it is just this eternal longing that Saburo, a young boy whose childhood spans Japanese occupation and subsequent Chinese Nationalist takeover of Taiwan, carries well into adulthood.  Bright and inquisitive, the five-year old Saburo is blamed for his younger brother’s death from pneumonia.  This ridiculous accusation yields years of degradation:  verbal assaults, bamboo cane beatings and deliberate malnourishment.  The notions of honor and duty snag Saburo’s emotions and tie the boy to his undeserving family for years.

While Wu attempts to contrast Asian and American familial cultures, her notions of family obligations and their accompanying guilt possess a much broader connection.  Despite being initially set in Taiwan, The Third Son transcends its veneer of an Asian novel.  Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club rendered a picture of them versus us, Asian versus Western, yet The Third Son offers more.  This nuanced depiction of the Taiwanese social and political landscape in the 40’s and 50’s lends moments of wait, this is me, too.

Julie Wu and Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine, will be discussing their novels and signing books at Prince Books in Norfolk on Wednesday May 8 at 7 pm.  Join these debut authors at Secco Wine Bar’s The Room in Richmond on Thursday May 9 at 6:30 for wine, light snacks and conversation (ticketed event).

The Third Son

Julie Wu

Algonquin Press

May 2013