Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Julie Wu

We’re delighted to announce that the winner of this giveaway is LYNNEGENTRY327. She has been notified via email. Thanks to all who entered and don’t forget to come back soon. We have a number of giveaways lined up for the future.  

Today’s post by author, Julie Wu | @JulieWuAuthor

Thanks to the wonderful people at Algonquin Books, we’ve got a copy of Julie’s novel, THE THIRD SON, up for grabs today. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.

Julie Wu

Julie Wu

The first time I went to Taiwan, I was four years old.   We drove up to my grandfather’s house in the bed of a delivery truck, and when it stopped to unload us onto the gravel drive, my mother grasped arms with people I had never seen.   As the strangers drew us into the house, my mother pointed to a cluster of oddly-dressed children playing jacks and told me they were my cousins.   To them, she said, “She does not speak Taiwanese. ”

They murmured among themselves and stared at me. “I be-hiau kong Taiwan-oue. ”   “She does not speak Taiwanese. ”

And then they began jeering: “You do not speak Taiwanese!   You do not speak Taiwanese! ”

I watched them all, silent.

I think and have always thought American thoughts, in English.   Whether my assimilation, my immersion in American culture gave me an edge in school or gave me a little extra facility with the English language, I will never know.   For me, most of all, being American has meant feeling free to be an individual.   It was for this reason above all that my parents came to this country, and I both inherited their unwillingness to be bounded by other people’s expectations and took advantage of the American respect for individualism.   My career trajectory—literature major, opera singer, physician, writer, could only have developed here.

I do see the cost of assimilation.   My lack of ability in my parents’ language seems sometimes tragic, and I could not easily rectify it if I tried. Taiwanese has never been the official language of Taiwan, an island subject to foreign rule and foreign languages—now Mandarin Chinese, at one time Japanese—for the duration of its history.   Finding courses or even teaching materials in the language is extremely difficult.

Yet, despite it all—my assimilation, my lack of fluency in Taiwanese, the American lens through which I view life—when I wrote my first novel, The Third Son,   I set it in Taiwan.   First novels can take a long time and that meant, for me, eleven years of thinking, reading, and writing about the people and the landscapes my parents grew up with.   My second novel will be set there, as well.   There is a core part of my psyche that will not be silenced or melded into the blandness of suburban America, a part of me with roots in an island and a culture on the other side of the Earth.

Perhaps it was this part of me that welled up inside, when I was four, watching the circle of children jeering at me.   It welled up, and I took a deep breath of the air that smelled of must and traces of burnt sandalwood.

Wa e-hiau kong Taiwan-we! ”   I shouted for the first time in my life.   “I can speak Taiwanese! ”

The children’s eyes widened.   “She can speak Taiwanese! ”

They jumped up and down all around me on the dark floor, waving their arms, dropping their jacks on the wooden floor.

“You can speak Taiwanese!   You can speak Taiwanese! ”

My mother bent down to me, laughing.   “I didn’t know you could say that! ”

It was all I could say.   But it was more than I’d thought I had in me and, with my cousins, I cheered.

* * *

The Third SonIn 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.

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25 Responses to Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Julie Wu

  1. Denise K. B. July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Books set in the Orient always have a bit of exotic that intrigues me.

  2. shannon brown July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Pick me!! Sounds wonderful!!

  3. Gwyn July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love to read books from different countries. This one sounds great.

  4. JanellK July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds great. I always like to read about a character I can root for.

  5. Paula July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds really good – thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  6. Alison Law July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    The reviews for this book are tremendous, and you can’t go wrong with anything published by Algonquin.

  7. lynnegentry327 July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds so intriguing. Would love to read this work.

  8. Cammi Hevener July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for all the great recommendations you provide!!

  9. Myra July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds like it would be interesting! Would love to win…Thanks!

  10. Julia Reffner July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Would love to read this!

  11. Kandra July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Wow! How eye-opening! Please sign me up!

  12. Mina July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Beautiful post. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  13. Lori July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Would love to read this book.

  14. rhonda July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Fascinating interview !would love to read the book

  15. Nancy Reynolds July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for a wonderful post. Your book sounds great. I would love to read it. Thanks for the chance to win. Best of luck with the book!

  16. Harvee Lau July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    The relationship between the Chinese from Mainland China and the Taiwanese people has always intrigued me. I am so glad the author is planning future books in the island.

  17. Carol Wong July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to read “The Third Son”. I love the author’s post. I am not Chinese but am married to one. Before we met, I went on a tour of China. We were in line to meet some Chinese professors at an university. One of them spoke to the woman next to me. Her mother was Chinese but she grew up in Germany so only knew English and German. I had to tell in Mandarin that she did not speak Chinese. The professor was very upset, I think at both of us! I knew some Mandarin because I took some classes.


  18. Karen July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Hope I win! I lived and worked in Taiwan long ago so have a real interest in this book. What an accomplished person the author is!

  19. Melissa Crytzer Fry July 29, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Wow. What a moving post, Julie. I’ve been wanting to read your novel since you first got your publishing contract. Kudos to you and the 11-year writing journey to publication. I love the vastness of your experiences – in medicine, opera… Seems you’ve also come back to your “other” roots: writing (given your lit major).

  20. Brooke Hughes July 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I would love to read this book! Thank you!


  21. Kathy July 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This book should be very insightful as to the culture and the politics of Taiwan and how the family interactions can mold a person. It would be a wonderful revelation of the inner workings of this society and of the main character’s development.

  22. LRF July 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    The Third Son sounds like a really interesting read. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  23. Judie McDonald July 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Would like to read

  24. Katherine Jones July 30, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I have heard so many raves about this book!

  25. Renee July 31, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I would love to win a copy of this book. It sounds like one I would really like.

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