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The Third Son

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  784 ratings  ·  168 reviews
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 Sabu
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 30th 2013 by Algonquin Books (first published April 1st 2013)
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Erika Robuck
From the moment I began THE THIRD SON and met Saburo, I was drawn to him and invested in his safety and well being. Saburo is a highly sympathetic character–a self-sufficient, calm, and intelligent boy abused by his family. From malnutrition to verbal and physical abuse, Saburo suffers, and he seeks small moments of peace in the outdoors at great cost to himself. When he experiences his first moment of tenderness from a young girl named Yoshiko, whom he saves during an air raid, his life becomes ...more
Jessica Keener
I spent many hours this weekend on my couch reading this beautiful novel, this heart wrenching story that I loved so much. And it made me cry. How it touched so many truths for me. Most vital is how this story takes on the travails of a young man and his struggle to free himself from his family and country's soul suffocating entrapment. Set in Taiwan and America in the fifties, author Wu had me enthralled, outraged, holding my breath until the last, splendid page. Her descriptions of geography, ...more
Although competently written (not evocative or beautiful), this book has: (1) peculiar sentences with mismatched ideas, (2) stilted language and jarring pacing, (3) concepts that leapt awkwardly from one to another, and (4) flat or inconsistent character development. I also felt the emotions were portrayed in a remote or superficial way.

The backdrop of Taiwan from the period of Japanese occupation till the Nationalist government was interesting in and of itself. I'd like to explore this in other
Barbara White
Despite the rich settings, the historical backdrop, the beautiful writing, this is a compelling story about an unforgettable character. Saburo, the third son of a Taiwanese politician, suffers abuse, neglect, and disdain from his family, but he is never bitter. He is gentle, resilient, determined, and conflicted. Even though he wants more for himself, Saburo struggles to obey convention and win his father’s respect. Several times I felt such anger toward his mother and older brother that I had t ...more
Jennifer S. Brown
I knew when I picked this book up that it wasn't for me--not a topic I'm particularly interested in--and I was only reading it because a friend of mine insisted. Holy cow, how many other fabulous books am I missing out on because they're "not for me"? I could not put this book down, and when I quickly finished it, I was annoyed with myself for not stretching it out more.

Saburo is from Taiwan, a third son who spends his life degraded and abused (his mom both figuratively and literally starves him
Anna Mills
Saburo is a young boy in Taiwan during the flux of governing change. And his father is a superior in local government and particularly uninterested in Saburo while saving his admiration for his older brother possibly because they are both asses while Saburo is a gentle soul. He grows up in the chaos of regime change, falls desperately in love early on and pursues Yoshiko in spite of his meddling brother. His goal is America and he gets there by using his scholastic ability with no help from his ...more
Review published at

Saburo knows little of his parents’ love. At five, he is blamed for the death of his brother; he is regularly beaten, and starved. A lonely child, he has little interest in school, preferring to discover the secrets of nature. Saburo lives in Taiwan, an island nation that had been ruled by the Japanese for nearly 50 years. At the end of World War II, however, it was handed to the Republic of China, the government displaced by the Chines
Jaime Boler

Rocky Balboa had an anthem, and so did Daniel LaRusso. Saburo, the irresistible protagonist in Julie Wu’s dazzling first novel, The Third Son, does not have an anthem; neither does he have a title nor does he win a championship trophy or belt. But Saburo is just as much an unlikely and humble hero as Rocky and the Karate Kid are. With a strong will, a big heart, and an indefatigable spirit, Saburo fights to survive and thrive in the midst of a family that deems him unimportant and a country drow
Toni Osborne
This novel is the debut novel for Ms. Wu, a vision she had years ago of a little boy in Taiwan. After years pushing words around it finally was published. Her best source was her father’s vivid memories of his unhappy childhood. He became Saburo Tong, the third son in this beautifully written fiction.

The family saga begins in 1943 when the Americans bombed Japanese occupied Taiwan and effortlessly we slip into Saburo’s world, an emotional journey, where he is cruelly made the scapegoat of his fa
The Third Son by Julie Wu is a book that you will have trouble laying down. I was reading another book at the same time and I started reading a token chapter each night because I was so enthralled by the story. This is a coming of age story unlike any others. It starts in 1943 in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation.

His family used Japanese names so that they could get better food rations. The school children could only use the Japanese language in school and all their textbooks were in Japan
Oh man, this book started off so well - a family saga that starts in Taiwan and transcends time and boundaries. I loved the younger story and the twists and turns. The characterisations were strong and believable and the rich historical background which I knew little of before this book was strongly told and believable. This was a strong 4 stars.

But, then when the protagonist moved to America the story become long and drawn out. It was implausible and just plan boring/snoozeworthy. The character
Cover Gushing Worthiness: The cover of The Third Son is gorgeous. The blend of colours and the silhouette of the little boy amongst the circling airplanes is beautiful. It easily is one of my favourite covers of the year so far.

Review: There are two things that drew me to this book 1: The cover and 2. the setting of Taiwan. I’ve never read any fiction about Taiwan and not many people know about the country/region. The only reason I know a little bit about Taiwan is because of my East Asian histo
One of the joys of reading is being instantly transported to far-away places and recent, yet removed times of history. Few Americans are intimately familiar with the embattled post-World War II Taiwan – once Japanese-occupied and now given to the Nationalist Chinese as a sort of booby prize. But the history is lush and heartbreaking and Julie Wu has a great chance to educate her readers.

The novel centers on two key characters – Saboro, the least favored third son of a self-important father and h
Japan's occupation of Taiwan comes to an end when they lose the war and have to relinquish Taiwan to Chiang Kai Shek's Nationlists. The transition isn't an easy one and Taiwan is embroiled in a period of unrest and violence as the Nationalists struggle to govern the Taiwanese and erase all evidence of Japanese culture among the people.

Saburo, the third and least loved son of a Taiwanese politician, is constantly emotionally and physically abused by his mother. Hunger is all he seems to know, de
Not your average 1940s Japanese story (if there is one). Begins in 1943, World War II, not from the perspective of Japanese internment camps rather air strikes in occupied Taiwan right before it was handed over to the Chinese National Army. As you may guess, being the third son is not a glamorous thing, and in Saburo’s case this is definitely true. Short end of the stick for everything except discipline. However, he is smart determined boy with strong moral compass and tongue at times. Yoshiko, ...more
My favorite thing about this book, set in Taiwan and the US in the middle of the last century, was the voice of the protagonist, which kept me wrapped up in the story. It's written in the first person perspective of the main character (he changes names with the vagaries of the political situation in Taiwan, so I'm not even going to attempt to use either of his), and when the story begins, he's a child. Normally, I don't like books written from the point of view of a child (they often end up soun ...more
Jenni Buchanan
This book has all the right ingredients: Strong characters, compelling story, good writing, romance, and fascinating descriptions of foreign customs and history. In spite of all this, it always felt like there was something holding me back from losing myself in the tale of Saburo and his family. Saburo is the third son of the title, unloved and abused by his family, but with an innate intelligence and strength of character that keeps him from falling into despair. Growing up in Japanese occupied ...more
This book was a gem! At its core, this was a love story but there was much more to it than simply that. At the book’s opening, it is 1943 and eight year old Saburo and his classmates have been ordered to flee the school as an American plane attacks. While fleeing, Saburo meets Yoshiko and learns from her that some families are warm and loving unlike his own. Almost daily, Saburo’s mother finds some reason to beat him with a bamboo switch, his father never smiles, and he is given far less food in ...more
Erin Cashman
The Third Son has everything I look for in a book: memorable characters, an intriguing plot, wonderful writing and beautiful and evocative settings. The story takes place in a tumultuous and terrifying period of Taiwan’s history, as the Chinese Nationalist Army takes control of the island. It tells the story of Saburo, the least favorite son of a Taiwanese politician. He is unloved and abused by his parents and older brother, but his gentle spirit and strong character enable him to endure. But h ...more
I know next to nothing about the history of Taiwan. Yet it was easy to relate to Saburo's story and his quest for a better life. Well done debut novel.
Copied from Julie's Review

From the moment I began THE THIRD SON and met Saburo, I was drawn to him and invested in his safety and well being. Saburo is a highly sympathetic character–a self-sufficient, calm, and intelligent boy abused by his family. From malnutrition to verbal and physical abuse, Saburo suffers, and he seeks small moments of peace in the outdoors at great cost to himself. When he experiences his first moment of tenderness from a young girl named Yoshiko, whom he saves during an
Saburo is born the third son in a large Taiwanese family and has the misfortune of being the child least favored. His brothers are spoiled while Saburo is beaten regularly; they are given the prize foods while Saburo suffers from malnutrition; he is not allowed to sit in with their lessons; even his sisters are valued more than he is- unusual in a culture where boys are prized. The only family member who treats him humanely is cousin Toru, a doctor.

But Saburo isn’t stupid like his family claims
The setting is Taiwan in the 1940’s which caught between Japanese and Chinese rule. The third son of a large family, Suburo was not loved by his parents and was beaten daily by his mother who constantly called him stupid. He was never given enough food or the chance at education that his favored older brother received. One day when he was just a grade school boy, and was running for cover during an air raid, he met a young girl from a different school. When her older brother came to find her he ...more
NO SPOILERS! So I don't want to tell you much about the plot or genre, but only about how this read found me at just the right time in my life. And my profound reaction. So that I could respond to its core message and example that Julie Wu SO understands? Was that core an essence my generation might still describe as individual "drive"? Or is it more fully a self-knowledge to our own worth and the relevance of that toward our own career or life's ambition? Or possibly that there exists a bit at ...more
This novel takes place in Taiwan during one of its most turbulent periods... as the Chinese Nationalist take control from Japan after WWII!!! The reader gets to experience the challenges of these political changes through a boy named Saburo... he is a wonderfully created character that you root for throughout his struggle to defy the social norms and political injustices that threaten to dictate his life!!! I loved him... very good book!!!
Spoilers ahead:

The Third son is a story that everyone should read. It is the story of, Saburo Tong who despite being born to an upper class Taiwanese family, deals with abuse from his family and society. Saburo's willingness to live was for Yoshiko. He had saved her life on one of the days when the country was being bombed during the war. They had bonded briefly and through her, he realized that the treatment he received at his home was not normal. He witnessed how Yoshiko and her brother cared
One of the best books I've read this year. It flows very easily from page to page weaving a very god tale. Recommended!
The book's description is misleading. It's not this love story or triangle. Saburo meets Yoshiko when they are children. They meet during an air raid. He sees her loving brother as proof that his cold father and abusive mother aren't the norm. He also thinks she's pretty. The touch on his arm that she gives him stays with him. if only because he doesn't get any loving touches at home. They don't see each other for years. When he does... It's certainly not on the arm of his brother. He is treated ...more
This book unfolded like a quilt that, at first glance, is simply made, but on closer examination is seen as intricate and beautiful. Like well-written historical fiction, this book transports us to a different culture, this time to Taiwan during and after WWII. What made this story extraordinary is the narrator and protagonist, Saburo, the third son of a wealthy but cruel Taiwanese family, whose intelligence and determination transports him to pursue his education in America. This story drew me ...more
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