Julie Wu (吳茗秀), a 40-something Taiwanese-American living in Boston, recently published a powerful first novel in English. And The Third Son, reviewed by Bradley Winterton in yesterday’s Taipei Times, wants to do more than just entertain.
Raised in a middle-class Taiwanese family in the US and educated at Harvard University, Wu could have steered clear of the arts and the financial sacrifices that trying to become a writer often entail. Yet even after getting a medical degree and practicing as a doctor in Massachusetts, she chose to try to make an impact with literature.
Married with two children and living a comfortable life in suburban Boston, Wu spent 10 years writing the 300-page novel about Taiwan in the 20th century and Taiwanese immigrants in 1950s America.
In a recent e-mail interview with the Taipei Times, Wu said that she wrote the book to tell a great story — to create an epic historical novel of the kind that she herself enjoys reading. But she also felt a calling to become part of a larger cause.
“Ever since I learned about Taiwanese history I have been driven to make it known to the outside world,” Wu said. “It is so unjust that no one is aware of what the Taiwanese people have been through, and that there is such profound ignorance in North America and Europe of Taiwan’s political situation,” she said.
“I feel that I have a unique opportunity to get the Taiwanese point of view out and onto the Western reader’s radar — just a little at least,” she said. “That’s something that’s valuable whether or not my book gets great reviews, prizes, or awards for its literary merit, and I’m happy about that.”
According to Wu, the reaction from Taiwanese and American readers has been “very positive” so far. “Taiwanese readers are generally happy to read a story that corresponds so closely with what they or their parents experienced,” she said.
“Non-Taiwanese readers seem to be drawn to the book partly because of the promise of a good story and partly from a desire to learn about Taiwan. Many American readers express chagrin that they didn’t even know about the Japanese occupation [of Taiwan in the first half of the 20th century], much less about the 228 Massacre or the White Terror period.” A Chinese-American reader who immigrated to the US from China told Wu that she was surprised to learn that there were people in Taiwan before Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣介石) arrived after World War II.
When asked if new forms of art and artistic expression might arise in contemporary Taiwan as a result of the raised consciousness and social awareness in the nation’s younger generations, Wu said it’s already happening.
“Artists have always been social commentators. I interviewed several former Green Island prisoners when I visited Taiwan last year, and they have been busy publishing novels and memoirs,” she said. “The Taipei 228 [Memorial] Museum, the Jingmei Human Rights [Memorial and Cultural Park], and the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park are filled with art and art reproductions that document and help people comprehend and contextualize Taiwan’s history.”
Wu said Taiwanese-Americans overseas are also doing their part.
“In America in 2010, Taiwanese-American film director Will Tiao (刁毓能) produced and acted in a CIA thriller titled Formosa Betrayed in which the modern history of Taiwan was integral to the plot,” she said.