This novel won 4 well-deserved Rainbow Awards when it was released in 2010. It is the story of Andrew Waters, son of an American oil executive and a Vietnamese woman (Vietnam was then called Indochina) who is educated by Buddhist monks and wishes to join the temple. After Pearl Harbor, he is ordered by his father to join the US Navy – and in Asian tradition, he must obey.
It’s hard to express my admiration for what Alan Chin has accomplished without going overboard—pun intentional. There is amazing scholarship in this story – sleeping arrangements aboard American ships in the tropics, survival tricks for turning a stomach-turning source of protein into vital nourishment, simple explanations, shorn of patriotic arrogance, of the balance of powers that led to the war in the Pacific. It all serves as a swirling background tapestry for the story of a soul’s journey from a temple to a minor naval ship to a POW camp, through opium addiction in occupied Japan, and finally to peace.
There’s a hint of the old TV series Kung Fu in this tale—the basic scenario of a young Buddhist man of mixed racial parentage thrown into conflict, the occasional flashback to give context to a situation. But the similarity ends there. Andrew is no martial arts master, confidently in control. Instead, his soul journey takes him from a still center and into turmoil that tears him apart, never realizing that his one constant virtue, his care for others over his own welfare, never alters. And his life comes full circle when he fulfills a promise to a dead lover, then finds that instead of being the one suffering from unrequited love, he can relieve another man’s longing.
I’ve got nothing to criticize except the proof-reader who left vile for vial and dribble for drivel. The Navajo put an intentional error in every work of art—maybe these were done on purpose.
This is the most beautiful book I’ve read in a very long time. It is magnificent.
Review provided by Ace Katzenbooks for the June 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.