Category Archives: Taiwanese

Author Interview: Julie Wu

Third SonAt 22, Julie Wu had a “vision” about a sad young boy that she immediately rushed to capture in words. From those initial notes, she would take almost a quarter century to bring him to the page: at age 46, she “bloomed” as a first-time novelist. The Third Son, about a Taiwanese boy and his journey from being the abused son in a privileged family to his reinvention as a successful American immigrant, finally hit shelves in April this year.

I just discovered this humorous post you did for Beyond the Margins: “What It Means When Your Reviewer is Mean, Unfair, and Totally Doesn’t Get It,” in which you “fess up” about your own state of mind when you wrote a negative review of a medical article years ago. So have you encountered any bad reviews of The Third Son? If so, how did you react?
Oh, of course. I know that reading taste is so individualized. I’ve been lucky that the majority of the reviews have been so positive, but when I get a bad one I read it and see if it makes sense to me. If I find a common thread in bad reviews, I should take note. If I find [it] totally different from what others say, I chalk it up to taste.

And what might you say to such a reviewer if you ever met him or her?
I guess I would say I’m sorry you didn’t like my book. Hope you like my next one!

I take it you’re not the confrontational type … no spats at the next AWP, huh?
No – you can’t browbeat someone into liking your book.

So at 46, let’s say you’re almost half-way to the other side, so to speak … our generation might easily live to be 100 apparently. And, even better, you’re a doctor, so you can heal yourself. You’ve had many incarnations during your first half – violinist, opera singer, doctor, mother. The “mother”-title you’ll keep forever, of course. So what about “writer”? Think this one will stick for a while?
I view the “writer” role as my ultimate one. It encompasses the whole of my life’s experience. Everything I have goes into a piece of writing.

Having fulfilled the stereotypical Asian immigrant parents’ dream of becoming a doctor, how did they react when you decided to give up your practice and devote yourself full time to writing? Do you think you’ll ever go back to doctor-ing?
Well, I kind of took the backdoor route to a full time writing career. I had kids first, so the reason I gave for quitting my medical job was to take care of them. And once I was home, well …

… and an immigrant grandparent wants ONLY the best for their precious grandchildren!
Exactly! And it’s possible I’ll go back in some capacity. We’ll see.

Let’s talk Third Son – which was almost a quarter-century in the making. Through the many, MANY drafts and revisions, you kept some two percent of the original draft – I read a quote that said the final was 98% different from the first draft. What was that writing process like?
It was a tremendous learning experience. It took all that time for me to mature as a person and a writer, for Taiwan to develop free speech, and for Al Gore to invent the Internet as it now stands.

The Taipei Times reported in an article last fall that yours is the first novel in English that talks about the 228 Incident and the subsequent White Terror. So your debut title has made literary history! How have your readers, especially Chinese Americans, responded to the history lesson you’ve woven into your epic story? [... click here for more]

Author interview: “Q&A with Julie Wu,” Bloom, October 30, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Chinese American, Taiwanese, Taiwanese American

The Third Son by Julie Wu + Author Profile

Third SonVision and Reinvention: Julie Wu’s The Third Son

So how many detours can a writer make before becoming that writer?

If you’re newbie novelist Julie Wu – who knew as a Harvard undergraduate in the 1980s that writing was what she wanted to do – the answer might include a Master’s program in opera performance (after serious training in the violin), medical school and the related internships and residencies required to become a doctor, a successful Boston-area practice, and motherhood.

Two decades-plus ago (but who’s counting?), Wu was “too intimidated to try writing,” as she revealed in an April interview for TaiwaneseAmerican.org. The award-winning novelist-to-be Allegra Goodman lived in Wu’s dorm, having already published, while other fellow Harvardites were also writing novels. Despite the encouragement of a teacher who admired Wu’s first freshman expository writing assignment so much that she suggested Wu move into a creative writing section, Wu decided instead to be “practical.” She thought about taking a short story class but didn’t have anything to submit for the application. She kept reading – “I simply love novels – the immersive nature of them. They’re really the original virtual reality programs, made to run on your brain” – and graduated with a degree in literature. Her own writing was yet to come.

Then at 22, Wu had a vision about “a little boy in Taiwan – it was so vivid I rushed immediately to write it all down, and that’s when I realized that that was how to write – that it wasn’t just pushing words around, it was about having a vision and really communicating that vision to other people.” She planned on a novel – “I wanted to be, you know, Tolstoy” – but another almost-quarter century would pass before Wu’s debut novel, The Third Son, finally hit shelves in April earlier this year just after she turned 46.

Wu began writing in earnest in 2001, producing Tolstoy-worthy lengths before eventually distilling her original vivid vision down to just over 300 pages: “I lost track of the number of revisions. I didn’t even print them all out, but I have drawers, trunks, and filing cabinets filled with drafts. Someday I’ll have a big bonfire,” she told Jaime Boler of Bookmagnet. She estimates she kept a mere 2% of the original draft.

The one element that remained unwavering throughout was, of course that “little boy in Taiwan.” He became Wu’s eponymous “third son,” Saburo Tong, who is more comfortable with his Japanese first name than his unfamiliar Taiwanese moniker Tong Chia-lin. Born into a politically prominent family in Japanese-controlled Taiwan, Saburo comes of age in the 1940s and ’50s, a tumultuous time on his small island home as it moves from Japanese control to U.S. invasion to mainland Chinese domination. Inextricably woven with Saburo’s narrative is the violent history of Taiwan’s 228 Incident, which began with the Taiwanese uprising against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on February 27, 1947, resulted in the brutal massacre of 10-30,000 Taiwanese on February 28 (“228”), and ushered in the White Terror, a period of martial law that lasted nearly four decades during which thousands of citizens were harassed, imprisoned, and murdered. [... click her for more]

Author profile: “Vision and Reinvention: Julie Wu’s The Third Son,” Bloom, October 28, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Lucky Girl: A Memoir by Mei-Ling Hopgood

The first reaction to finishing Lucky Girl is ‘lucky readers.’ Definitely of the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’-genre, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood‘s debut memoir is one lucky surprise after another. Paced just right to keep you reading, the Taiwanese-born Hopgood reveals a remarkable story of her Midwest adoption to a loving, nurturing family and her reunion more than two decades later with her sprawling birthfamily on the other side of the world.

To share Hopgood’s emotional adventure in her own words should not be denied lucky readers … so feel free stop reading here. If you want a few more enticing tidbits, read on …

Adopted at just seven months from Taiwan, Hopgood grew up the oldest child in a close-knit family of five, including two younger adopted brothers originally from Korea (one of her brothers becomes a local politician in adulthood!). While she always knew she was adopted, she spent most of her ‘lucky’ life without too much curiosity about her Asian heritage.

In early 1997,  Hopgood was a St. Louis-based reporter, in her early 20s, in the midst of preparing for a party she was hosting in her new apartment. It was the Year of the Ox again, two cycles from her own Ox birth. A phone call from Sister Maureen, the nun who facilitated Hopgood’s adoption, brings shocking news: Sister Maureen reveals not only birthparents who are longing to see her, but six sisters and a brother in Taiwan, and yet another sister in Switzerland who had also been given up for adoption.

The Chinese New Year celebration was fast approaching … and Hopgood’s birthfamily was hoping , longing , begging for a family reunion: “I felt elated and strange, with only a vague sense that much of what I knew about who I was and what I believed about my past and future was about to change.” Understatement indeed.

Go get the book – it just came out in paperback last month to make it more accessible … and portable! Good thing because you’re going to want to take it with you wherever you go to find out what happens next … Lucky you!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Taiwanese, Taiwanese American

I Can Be Anything! by Jerry Spinelli, illustrated by Jimmy Liao

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli is one of those favorite authors I share with my children, Maniac Magee and Stargirl probably being our all-time favorite Spinelli titles. I think this might be his very first picture book (Spinelli’s back flap bio mentions his 28 novels and 17 grandkids, but not another young kiddie title) – although kids of every age will definitely enjoy this one. The bright orange sticker on the cover, “Perfect for Graduation,” shows the marketing department has things figured out … many a BIG kid is going to be getting this along with their diplomas come spring …

Told in adorable, gigantic-print rhymes, an exuberant little boy (although he bears quite a resemblance to our daughter with her very short hair, energized blue overalls, blue suede shoes, and matching blue bunny to boot!) dreams big dreams of “what shall I be?” From paper-plane folder to puppy-dog holder, from barefooted hopper to bubble gum popper, from cheek-to-cheek grinner to dizzy-dance spinner, the child is so enthused at all the possibilities that he decides to choose them all! Why not … he’s young, he’s got time to try anything and everything!

As fun as Spinelli’s story is, what makes the book ideal is Jimmy Liao‘s playful drawings. Another kiddie favorite, Liao has over 30 book titles to his credit (and apparently no grandchildren as yet …). His jaunty, bright signature style perfectly captures the child’s energy, infusing him with indescribable FUN. In Liao’s whimsical world, the child stomps through puddles with two merry ducks leading the way, is unaware of a surprised caterpillar atop an oversized apple he’s about to crunch into, watches with bug-eyed wonder at a screen filled with make-believe creatures (one of whom might be himself), and naughtily sneaks off with the very best piece of birthday cake. Liao’s gleeful fun is downright contagious.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific, Taiwanese

My South Seas Sleeping Beauty: A Tale of Memory and Longing by Zhang Guixing, translated by Valerie Jaffee

my-south-seas-sleeping-beautySu Qi, a sensitive Chinese Malaysian youth, comes of age in the magical jungles of Borneo, shaped by the cruelty he witnesses at the hands of his abusive father and his loving but withdrawn mother. He is bewitched by the elusive daughter of his father’s best friend, but when she falls into a hopeless coma (yes, another sleeping beauty!) after a near fatal fall, Su Qi escapes to Taiwan, where he enters college and meets a vibrant fellow student singer with secrets of her own.

Zhang Guixing, a Chinese-Malaysian writer living in Taiwan, manages to create a novel as dense as the labyrinthine garden of Su Qi’s enigmatic mother, filled with ghosts and detached voices that refuse to be silenced.

Review: “Windows: Asian Literature in Translation: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, September/October 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007 (United States)

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The Old Capital: A Novel of Taipei by Chu T’ien-hsin, translated by Howard Goldblatt

old-capitalFour short stories and a longer novella are linked together to create a mosaic of disparate voices that share a visceral longing for a time – and place – forever past. Chu adroitly leads readers through a contemporary Taiwan displaced by Japanese colonial overtones mixed with inescapable Western cultural influences.

Chu’s book is an exercise in chaotic cultural survival, from “Death in Venice,” about a young writer who finds himself more involved with his characters than his own life, to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” in which a young office worker decides she will spend her bonus on the perfect Tiffany diamond ring, to the book’s titled story, “The Old Capital,” about a young woman who travels to Kyoto to meet an old friend, which causes her to reconsider her life since she and the friend were young students together.

Review: “Windows: Asian Literature in Translation: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, September/October 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, .Translation, Taiwanese

The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature edited by Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt

columbia-anthology-of-modern-chinese-literatureHere’s the updated second edition of what was already considered the definitive overview of modern Chinese literature in English translation, with representative writing from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. With China poised to become a dominant world player in the 21st century, this anthology is a great introduction to some of the very best in Chinese language fiction, poetry, and essays.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Nonfiction, .Poetry, .Translation, Chinese, Taiwanese

China on Screen: Cinema and Nation by Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar

china-on-screenTwo notable Asian film scholars offer an admirable overview of more than a century’s worth of Chinese film history – including the diaspora represented by films from Taiwan, Hong Kong and even the United States – starring internationally recognized actors and filmmakers such as Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and Ang Lee.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2006

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Chinese, Chinese American, Taiwanese

Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island by Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh and Darrell William Davis

Taiwan Film DirectorsWith the relaxing of government controls in the 1980s, Taiwanese filmmakers quickly established themselves internationally. Four directors, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ang Lee (whom we claim as one of our APA own), and Tsai Ming-liang get closely examined here.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, September 8, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

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Envisioning Taiwan: Fiction, Cinema, and the Nation in the Cultural Imaginary by June Yip

Envisioning TaiwanThrough close readings of “nativist” Taiwanese literature of the 1960s and 1970s and of the Taiwanese New Cinema of the 1980s and 1990s, Yip offers a distinct national Taiwanese identity independent of historical Chinese control and the further influx of Japanese and Western influences.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, January 6, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Taiwanese