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Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:01 am

Storyteller with Springfield ties

Andrew Lam’s historical novel portrays war in 1940s China

Two Sons of China, by Andrew Lam, paperback, 466 pages, Bondfire Books, published December 2013. Available through Amazon, iTunes, and via www.TwoSonsofChina.com.

Andrew Lam, M.D., who graduated from Springfield High School in 1994, skillfully crafts his historical novel, Two Sons of China, taking the reader to the 1940s and a China which is suffering from a brutal invasion and occupation by Japanese military. At the same time, the country is also facing an incipient civil war between Communist Chinese forces led by Mao Zedong and Nationalist Chinese led by General Chiang Kai-shek.

In considering his early years, Lam says, “I did not really write anything in high school worth mentioning. But I did have wonderful teachers, particularly Daria Neece and M.J. Peters (English) who encouraged me to continually improve my writing. And Bob Milnes (history) encouraged me to pursue history if I was passionate about it, which I always have been.”

Focusing on military history and U.S.-East Asian relations, Lam graduated summa cum laude in history from Yale University. This was followed by a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and ophthalmology and retina surgery training at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Lam is currently an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine. He resides in western Massachusetts with his wife and four children.

Lam draws out a little known historical event called the Dixie Mission in creating the epic tale. Several Americans stationed in Yenan (Yan’an), China between July 1944 and March 1947 were required to study, report and advise the U.S. government about activities in China in an effort to establish relations with the Communist Party and its People’s Liberation Army and, ultimately, to determine whether to throw its support to the Communists or the Nationalists. The official name of the Dixie Mission was the U.S. Army Observer Group. To carry this story beyond bare facts and official reports, Lam assembles a scenario of real and fictional characters – American, Chinese, Japanese – casting them against a panorama of an ever-changing sky, craggy mountains, dense forests and lush underbrush, rivers, the struggle of fallible humans attempting to survive a fearsome maelstrom of political, emotional and deadly military turmoil.

His story begins with blowing up a bridge held by Japanese troops and chronicles the passionate, complicated romance between fictional characters American David Parker and British journalist Katherine Payne. Lam describes the suffering of rural Chinese trying to survive war and its brutality and the final harrowing journey for Parker, who is guided over the mountains to freedom by Lin Yuen, a laconic, resourceful Chinese guerilla. But Yuen’s stoicism and military acumen, coupled with compassion and wisdom, is not recognized by the Chinese patrol ordered to track the men down. The story ends on a mournful though anticipated note.

The “Epilogue,” which is place- and date-stamped “Xian 1990,” pulls readers to present time and back into the lives of the main characters and their descendants. Like longitudinal studies where hope resides and curiosity continues about people one cares about, the epilogue ties most loose ends. Parker learns the fate of his Chinese “brother” Yuen. Parker, himself, has left military/diplomatic service and become a pastor, saving souls in the small New England town of New Haven. The civil war in China that resulted in the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan and U.S. relations with communist mainland China severed for the next few decades is recounted. Those events, including the Tiananmen Square incident, provide reference points for the poignant reunion scene between Parker and Yuen’s now middle-aged daughter, Mei Fong.

Lam composes a compelling narrative for readers wanting to learn more about the “other side” of the world. While providing information firmly rooted in fact, Lam creates an epic tale – written from the perspective of the individuals living and suffering through events. His account of this history led me to think of other books read so many years ago – Mikhail Sholokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don, Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, Homer’s Odyssey and Holocaust accounts. All recount the terrors, barbarity and heroisms in war. But they also chart the questions, doubts, human emotions, misunderstandings and mistakes that inevitably arise. Lam’s writing quickly moves the reader along by his focused narrative style. He is a wonderful storyteller. I hope he has many other stories to share.

Yosh Golden has written on diverse subjects for Illinois Times. Now retired, she previously worked as a lobbyist, reporter, university executive staff, public information officer, deputy director of business and finance, and data manager for an IT company. Recently retired owner of SACHI Flowers and Gifts, a downtown Springfield flower shop, she is working a book about her family that was sent to various U.S. concentration camps during World War II.

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