Julie Wu and The Third Son
Dmae Roberts talks with ulie Wu about her debut novel The Third Son. Set in Taiwan during World War II, the novel opens in 1943. An eight-year-old boy named Saburo, lives in fear of his abusive family one moment and is running for his life under gunfire from American planes strafing the Japanese occupied island the next.
Saburo meets the love of his life, Yoshiko, in the same moment he’s dodging gunfire from airplanes. Years later they marry and create a life together in Taiwan and then in the U.S. The Third Son doesn’t tell an easy love story or history, though.
Through Saburo’s eyes, Wu describes how he witnessed the Chinese Nationalist Party (later to be called the Kuomingtang or KMT) arriving in Taiwan after being handed control by the U.S. government at the close of World War II. The Taiwanese at first welcomed the soldiers and Chiang Kai-shek. But the people soon realized the Nationalists occupation would become an oppressive military dictatorship.
It was only in reading more recent accounts of the February 28,1947 massacre (also known as the 228 massacre) in Taiwan that people learned that more than 10,000 to 30,000 people might have died at the hands of the Nationalist government.
In Wu’s novel, young Saburo describes his father’s reaction of the concealment of an open rebellion by the Taiwanese and the subsequent massacre by the Nationalist occupiers:
“Reform,” my father said, folding his arms, “means that Chiang Kai-shek wants the United States to send him more money. It means he is trying to make the world forget about the many thousands of people he has killed since February twenty-eight and all the American dollars he wasted when he failed to beat the Communists.”
The “reform” following the massacre was only a show put on for U.S. allies and from 1949-1987 the government instituted a period of martial law and internal repression called the “White Terror” in which 3000-4000 people were executed and up to 140,000 were imprisoned.
During the second half of the novel, the location changes. Following Saburo’s journey to America before the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed family reunification, Saburo travels to America with only a two-year technical degree. He struggles amid poverty and near starvation while working part-time jobs to earn a Ph.D. and a career as a rocket scientist. After years of hardship and near-death in Taiwan, Yoshiko and their young son are finally allowed to join Saburo in the U.S.
It took Wu 11 years to write and get her debut novel published. Even before that she changed paths first from becoming an opera singer to getting a graduate degree in medicine. It was during this time that she discovered love of writing fiction.
To find out more about The Third Son, visit JulieWuAuthor.com.