The Third Son


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