The Third Son by Julie Wu

The Third Son by Julie Wu
Publisher: Algonquin Books 
Publication Date: April 2013
Categories: Literary, Historical, Taiwan

In the middle of a terrifying air raid in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, runs through a peach forest for cover. It’s there that he stumbles upon 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—and the fast-changing American West of the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Third Son is a richly textured 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.

In Saburo, debut author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character who is determined to fight for everything he needs and wants, from food to education to his first love. A sparkling and moving story, it will have readers cheering for a young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.

My Thoughts:
Once I started reading The Third Son I couldn’t stop. When I absolutely had to get up I found myself walking and reading at the same time.

This book contained some of my favorite things to read about; a bit of politics, a lot of Asian culture, and a historical setting. Win, win, win! It was also a quick read, which is surprising when you consider the heavy subject matter.

Saburo is a wonderful protagonist with a convincing voice. There are few people that treat him well. He is constantly hungry as the best rations go to his older brothers. He is often bruised from being beaten with a stick of bamboo. But there is a small voice of optimism inside of Saburo that keeps him going.

My favorite scenes in this novel are when Saburo arrives in America for the first time. He is intelligent and curious and it was delightful to read these scenes in which his naivete and innocence come to the fore.

If I had one problem it was with the secondary characters that can come across as one dimensional.  The destructive actions of some of Saburo’s family members are hard to understand and seem to be purely evil. On the other hand, some of those characters sure are fun to hate!

I absolutely recommend The Third Son. Wholeheartedly.

About Julie Wu
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.
For more information about Julie, please refer to Anna Wu’s interview on

46 thoughts on “The Third Son by Julie Wu

  1. Okay, I'm convinced! Adding this to my list now. I'm especially intrigued by the setting — not sure I've ever read a book set in Taiwan, which is a little sad.


  2. Sibling relationships are always interesting and they are even more so when they are set in a time and place in history that we don't know much about!


  3. This sounds like another powerful read! I will have to keep my eye out for this one. Glad to hear that the reading flowed easily despite the heavy subject matter. I love when you learn and enjoy a book at the same time! Great review!Happy Reading,Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate


  4. I *should* know this history but I don't, so I'm going to have to find out more about the book, see if it's to be/has been published here.


  5. Obviously I liked this one too!! I've read a lot of historical fiction about war, but mainly the civil war, or wars in Europe. This one was something different, to read about the war in Taiwan. I also found Saburo's story to be inspiring, he was such a courageous young boy (and later, a courageous and inspiring man). I loved reading it, I wish the book was longer, so Toru and Yoshiko's characters could develop more, but I still enjoyed this very much!


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