Books and Reviews

The Third Son

A story of yearning and freedom set in occupied Taiwan and in America at the dawn of the space age.

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.

In Saburo, Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, a gentle soul forced to fight for everything he’s ever wanted: food, an education, and his first love, Yoshiko. A sparkling, evocative debut, it will have readers cheering for this young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.


“Twin dramas — an unusually awful sibling rivalry, a stunningly pure and inspiring love story — center a book that spans decades and continents. This is a deceptively simple, deeply compelling debut.”

~ The Boston Globe


“A boy growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1940′s will do anything to escape his tormenting family and reconnect with his first love in this compelling work of fiction.”

~ O, The Oprah Magazine


“Wu’s debut convincingly depicts a third-born son’s struggle to overcome his feelings of worthlessness and insecurity as he journeys from Taiwan to America in pursuit of freedom and accomplishment. . . Wu presents an alluring story that hits all the right emotional buttons and maintains readers’ empathy from the first page to the last.”

~ Kirkus Reviews


“Wu’s debut novel is an appealing coming-of-age story packed with vivid historical detail.”

~ The Christian Science Monitor


“You may have read other Asian American historical novels, but you’ve never read anything like Julie Wu’s affecting and emotional The Third Son. It’s one of the don’t-miss books of the year.”

~ Beth Fish Reads


“Vivid and moving, The Third Son asks important questions about familial duty, responsibility and the ramifications of our actions for those we love.”

~ Shelf Awareness


“From the first page of her debut novel, Julie Wu effortlessly slips us into Saburo’s world–a life that begins in hardship and cruelty in 1940s Taiwan, but eventually finds happiness and fulfillment in the American Dream. I was entranced by this tale of an immigrant who boldly makes a new future for himself out of the wreckage of a Dickensian childhood. The Third Son is about love lost, love regained, and–most of all–love’s endurance. [It's] a universal story that will have everyone cheering for Saburo and Yoshiko, two lovers whose faith in each other spans continents and oceans.”

~ David Abrams, author of Fobbit


“An epic and beautiful debut, Wu had me rooting for her hero right from the very start. The Third Son is a novel of chances and choices, love and loyalty, hope and heartache. A magnificently inspiring story of one man’s odyssey to freedom.”

~ Carol Rifka Brunt, author of Tell the Wolves I’m Home


“This electrifying story of human yearning, perseverance, and love, introduces an unlikely hero who struggles to prevail against the limitations of his birth in embattled midcentury Taiwan. His experiences are authentically foreign, as we see post-WWII America through his eyes, and yet compellingly familiar, as he endures trials of mind, body, and spirit, persevering against brutal circumstances to risk everything for love and for his future. Wu’s storytelling is masterful.”

~ Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine


“This novel opens with a blast of machine-gun fire, as a school-boy delivers a girl from death during World War II.  Julie Wu spins a fable of borders – between childhood and adulthood, Taiwan and America. In deceptively simple prose, Wu evokes the heartache of people caught in the middle.”

~ Pagan Kennedy, author of Confessions of a Memory Eater


“This novel has it all: mystery, family, the sweep of history, humor. Once you begin to read the story of Saburo Tong, you won’t be able to put it down.”

~ Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter