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Book Review: The Third Son

Posted by gck Wednesday, April 24, 2013

thirdsonThe Third Son by Julie Wu

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of Lisa See
Received ARC copy through NetGalley.

Book 13 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
It’s 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored 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. In the forest he meets 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—The Third Son tells the 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.

My review:
It seems common in Chinese historical fiction for a female main character to go through a great amount of suffering. I suppose it was a “nice” change in this piece of Taiwanese historical fiction for a man to have the suffering instead. And he certainly had to face a lot of difficult challenges in this novel!

I really enjoyed the setting of this novel, much of it taking place in a Taiwan that many people in American don’t know about. I showed a friend the description of the book, and she remarked, “Saburo doesn’t sound like a very Chinese name to me.” The Japanese occupation of Taiwan isn’t often studied in schools here, but it’s important because the influences remain very strong in the country to this day. I enjoyed reading about the Taiwan of the Japanese, followed by what happened when the Chinese Nationalists took over.

Another bright spot in The Third Son is the main character of Saburo. He is an untraditional scholar, a hands-on self-learner instead of a proper student. He is rebellious and speaks his mind, and he is forced to aim for success in unconventional ways. It brought a smile to my face each time his true intelligence managed to win over politics or trickery. His character is one that is very different from the Asian male stereotype.

Though I was constantly rooting for Saburo to succeed, I didn’t feel a strong emotional connection, especially in relation to the love story between him and Yoshiko. This was the main thing that kept the book from being one that I absolutely loved. However, I still enjoyed it a lot, and I look forward to reading more from this author.


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