Monday, August 9, 2010

The Lonely War by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Bob Lind (Echo Magazine)
Published by Zumaya Boundless

Andrew Waters is a Chinese-American young man, who grew up in China, schooled by Buddhist monks. His family is forced to leave China at the start of World War II, and he enlists in the Navy, where his personality and intellect make him clash with most of his shipmates. His latent homosexuality also surfaces, and he develops a strong crush on one of the officers, who empathizes with his situation. When the ship is destroyed and the crew is taken to a Japanese P.O.W. camp, Andrew makes the difficult decision to agree to become the base commander's lover, in exchange for food and medicine needed for his shipmates - including his crush, who was attacked by a shark in abandoning the ship. He tries to keep his role a secret, using the story that he is simply cooking for the commander, as he did on the ship. But his true role is revealed, and Andrew is ostracized as a traitor by most of the men. As the war starts to draw to a close, Andrew also learns of plans that could jeopardize all of their lives.

I first became aware of Chin through his "Island Song" novel, which I thought was exceptionally creative and emotional. This is in the same vein, with complete and realistic characterizations of both the ship's crew and their captors, reinforcing the truth that nobody really "wins" in a war. Andrew is torn by his sense of honor and need to excel, now tempered by the realization that some people won't like him, no matter what he does, and further complicated by his budding sexual attraction to an officer. It's a roller coaster of conflicts, fears and desires, all rolled together in a well-written war novel you won't be able to put down. Five stars out of five.

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