“Lost Men”–reacquaintance

Leung, Brian. “Lost Men”, Shaye, Areheart Books, 2007.


Amos Lassen

“Lost Men” by Brian Leung is the story of a father and a son. It is a powerful, bittersweet tale of how an estranged father has the opportunity to reacquaint himself with his son, someone he has not seen in 20 years. Beautifully told in sagacious and lyrical prose, the story of Westen Chan is narrated to us in a way that it pierces the heart.

When Westen’s American mother died, his Chinese father, Xin, left him in the hands of his Caucasian great-aunt and uncle in rural Washington State. He left him with a promise that one day he would come back for him and take him on a journey to his own village in China. It took him 20 years to keep that promise. Westen, at 32, has not fully developed emotionally. He is still somewhat a child who is insecure, stubborn and full of resentment. He has not yet experienced sex and this he blames on his having been abandoned by his dad. When Xin does return, he is no longer young and not well. He also has to deal with the guilt he feels about his son and is very unsure about being able to reconnect with Westen. When the two finally meet, they do so haltingly and attempt to explain themselves. On the trip Xin explains that there was great hardship in his village and he relates the ancient, sacred traditions of his people. As the two men interact, the stories between them become all the more gripping and meaningful. Westen feels he has no cultural roots, no heritage and no family. Xin has spent his middle-aged years in a state of torment because of abandoning his son as well as due to memories from childhood of what his family went through during the revolution. He is in very bad health now, facing a terminal illness.

The two men are truly lost and the trip to China does not give them the reconciliation or the redemption they both so badly want. Both men carry with them items that represent great matters of personal mystery and importance. Westen has a small blue box of “hope” which he is to open when the time is tight. Xin has a sealed letter which asks questions about his son’s paternity. As they travel, secrets that both of them have been holding within begin to come to face them. Westen is stubborn, cold, and vindictive and very angry that his father had abandoned him. He does not even see his father’s failing health. All of this is set against the background of China’s vast store of historical and cultural relics and add metaphorical resonance to the stories of the lost men.

The book is written in alternating voices and in short chapters but events do unfold in a very predictable way.  Even with this the heartbreak of the two men is sincerely felt throughout. The story is quite engaging as it addresses a father-son conflict while at the same time contemplating the confusion of establishing an ethnic identity due to a mixed marriage. And above all else it is a story of acceptance—of responsibility for both past actions and of one another.

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