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Lost Men: A Novel Paperback – February 26, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Leung gingerly reacquaints an estranged father and son who travel through China in this sagacious and lyrical debut novel. When Westen Chan's American mother died, his Chinese father, Xin, left him with his Caucasian great-aunt and uncle in rural Washington State, promising one day to return and take his son on a journey to Xin's village in China. More than 20 years have passed when Xin's invitation finally arrives. Westen is 32, but in many ways still childlike: insecure, resentful and stubborn. A virgin, he at least partially blames his romantic difficulties, with both men and women, on being abandoned by his father. Xin, now elderly, ill and trying to cope with his own guilt, is unsure if he can reconnect with his son. The two haltingly reintroduce and explain themselves, and while on the trip, Xin confides in Westen about the hardship he left behind in his village and shares ancient traditions. The stories of the two men, told in an alternating first person, become increasingly gripping: "Be careful about judging people without knowing all their history," says Xin, who also bears an unopened letter from Westen's mother to her son. Throughout, Leung handles the complex father-son relationship with care, and does a marvelous job negotiating the two men's fraught cultural and emotional legacies. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Soon after 12-year-old Westen Chan's American mother dies in an accident, his Chinese father leaves the boy with his mother's aunt and uncle and says he'll be back. Two decades later, his father "returns" and suggests that father and son visit China together. Westen has grown to adulthood tormented by his abandonment, his failed relationships, his lack of familial and cultural roots. His father, who has spent his middle age tormented by abandoning his son and by childhood memories of his family's flight from revolution in China, now also faces a terminal illness. Father and son are truly lost men, and the trip to China doesn't provide the reconciliation and redemption both men desire. Lost Men is an accomplished first novel by the author of World Famous Love Acts (2004), an award-winning book of short stories. Written in the plainest of language, Lost Men is a powerful, universal story of inchoate fathers and sons. Thomas Gaughan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story's protagonist, a young Chinese-American man named Westen Chan living and raising pigeons near Oregon's Columbia River, receives a letter from his father Xin in Los Angeles inviting the son to join him on a packaged tour of China. Xin disappeared from Westen's life 25 years earlier after his vivaciously blond and all too Caucasian wife Celia, Westen's mother, died tragically after being hit by a car. During that time, Westen has changed his last name to Gray, the family name of the aunt and uncle by whom he was raised in his father's long absence. Although their relationship is cool to the point of frigidity, Westen ultimately decides to accept his father's offer, and thus begins a strained reconciliation even as father and son trek through the standard tourist sites of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Beijing, and Xian.
Both father and son carry physical items with them on the tour that represent matters of great personal mystery and importance - Westen a small blue box of "hope" given to him as a child by the strange Mrs. Cheung to open when he would know the time is right, and Xin a sealed letter from Celia addressing questions of Westen's paternity. As the tour progresses, secrets long held by both men slowly seep out. However, Westen remains cold and vindictive, so angered by his father's abandonment that he fails to recognize the Xin's obviously declining health. China's vast store of historical and cultural relics provide both backdrop and metaphorical resonance to Xin's and Westen's story - a rape is revealed, perhaps a bit too coincidentally, in Nanjing (site of the infamous 1937 Japanese military "rape of Nanjing"), the Great Wall symbolizes the separation of father and son as do the torturous manipulations of the Beijing acrobats, and even Xian's renowned and partially excavated terra cotta warriors serve to remind Westen of what still remains buried. Father and son finally break ranks and leave the packaged tour, heading for south China and the father's modest home village. Even here, a needed bridge to be financed by Xin is unnecessarily pressed into symbolic service as representative of the reconnection between the estranged father and his son.
Author Leung writes in a serviceable manner, alternating voices periodically between Westen and Xin without offering much in the way of literary style to distinguish the two. He writes in short, vignette-like chapters, adopting the peculiar 19th Century technique of subtitling each chapter heading with brief capsule statements of that chapter's primary events or contents. Events unfold in a rather too predictable way, and the contents of Westen's box and the disposition of Celia's letter are equally as trite and predictable. While the symbolism is applied with a bit of a heavy hand, Leung nevertheless manages to tell a reasonably engaging story. LOST MEN addresses a difficult father-son reconciliation while also contemplating the inherent confusions of establishing (among other things) an ethnic identity as the product of a racially mixed marriage. In the end, LOST MEN is a story of acceptance -- accepting responsibility for one's past actions and accepting one another in spite of those actions, whatever their motivations at the time.