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The Third Son

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,369 ratings  ·  226 reviews
In the middle of a terrifying air raid in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, runs through a forest for cover. It’s there he stumbles on 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 ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 30th 2013 by Algonquin Books (first published April 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,369 ratings  ·  226 reviews

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Erika Robuck
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it

The Third Son is a beautifully written debut novel. This book reads more like a memoir. Julie Wu takes the reader back to 1943 to Japanese occupied Taiwan, continues through the struggle with Chinese Nationalism and Communism, and ends in late 50's to early 60's in America. What made this story extraordinary is the narrator and protagonist, Saburo, the third son of a wealthy but cruel Taiwanese family. I found that I was constantly rooting for him to succeed. This story drew me in with its
Breslin White
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately this novel's setting changes halfway through, and moves to America, from Taiwan. This means the Goodreads description of the setting as Taiwan only is inaccurate. I was hoping for a novel completely set in Asia. Just be aware of that if you read it. You can learn a fair bit about Taiwan by reading the novel, and the novel is unique in several respects, not least because although it begins as a WWII novel, it moves past these things. It was worth reading The Third Son for its ...more
Jennifer S. Brown
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jaime Boler
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo
3.5 Stars

A wound that never healed. A promise never to be fulfilled.
That was family."

This is what the least favored son, the third son, of well off politically connected parents think until he meets a young girl in the peach woods of Taoyuan. At 8 years old, Saburo is in no hurry to get home though the Americans are strafing the town with machine guns mounted on their huge airplanes. It's 1943 in Japanese held Taiwan. He doesn't understand why the teachers don't keep the students
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Anna Mills
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
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!!!
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: asian-literature
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
Toni Osborne
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cultural
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A solid 3 stars. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, which takes place in Taiwan. I found the story felt rushed and lacked details once the main character arrived in the USA. No details about his life, how he excelled in school, how he got by day to day, his interactions with Americans.

The book begins as a family saga that starts in Taiwan and I loved the younger story and the twists and turns. The characterizations were strong and believable and the rich historical background was
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I postponed reading this for many many months as I anticipated it being 'too heavy' a read whilst I was bogged down with house renos. Having now read it, in a manner which I couldn't put it down and read it over the course of a few sittings, I'm both glad I waited to read it in long uninterrupted sittings, as well as annoyed that I didn't get to devour it earlier!

The book's setting of Taiwan I found fascinating, and story circulating around the treatment of a least-favored son of a powerful man
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: cfb-book-group
3.5 Stars

This was really readable and an interesting perspective on Taiwan as well as family dynamics with an”lesser” son. I really enjoyed the plot for about the first 2/3 of the book but it seemed to fall apart at the end. I wish there was more about the Nationalist agents spying on students and that the immigration to the US part was better developed.

Dessert: espresso ice cream (Myers and Chang at Home and chocolate cookies with salt or matcha (riff on Barbara Lynch Stir).
Joyce Bergvelt
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A superb novel of Taiwan during a very turbulent time in its 20th century history. There are as yet very few English-language novels written about Taiwan, and as far as I know, this is one of the first on this period, which in itself is commendable. Not many people are aware that the island was colonized by Japan between 1895 and 1945, only for its people to be subjugated by the arriving Chinese Nationalists (KMT) shortly afterwards.

The story begins with the young Taiwanese boy Saburo, who is
Tiera San
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book. The protagonist in the book is a boy named Saburo, he is the third son in a wealthy family and also the rebel child in the family. The book mainly takes place in Taoyuan (Peach Garden), Taiwan. It is under Japanese occupation and after they are defeated in WWII they are then acquired by the Chinese Nationalist Party. I really enjoyed the way Wu incorporated Taiwanese history into the story, it was if you were transported to that time . I took a course called Modern Japanese ...more
Abbey Hambaum
Nov 26, 2017 rated it liked it
For my war story, I read The Third Son, by Julie Wu. This is a work of historical fiction, set during a pivotal time in Taiwan’s history when the island is in the process of being taken over by the nationalists run by Chiang Kai-shek. The book is narrated by Saburo, the third son and least favorite child of a Taiwanese politician. His entire family hates him because he was with his younger brother when he died, and they blame his death on Saburo, even though he was a child and couldn’t do ...more
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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,
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jenni Buchanan
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Erin Cashman
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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“Only a child believes his rulers have his best interest at heart,” he said. “We would be wise to disabuse ourselves of such illusions.” 2 likes
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