Aimee Liu’s Glorious Boy opens in 1942 but begins in 1936 New York when Claire, aspiring anthropologist, meets Shep, a young British doctor being punished by exile.
They soon marry and depart to his duty station, Port Blair on the Andaman Island in the Bay of Bengal. The island serves as a penal colony for political prisoners. Once there, they hire eight-year-old Nalia to care for their mute son, Ty, the “glorious boy” of the title. Nalia possesses “an uncanny ability to intuit whatever Ty wanted or needed—as if the children had their own spiritual language.”
As British hold over the island falters, they hear more of Japan’s rallying cry of “Asia for Asians.” When Rangoon, a neighboring Burmese city, falls, civilians are ordered out of Port Blair with a single standing order: “No local borns or natives.” Because of the connection between Nalia and young Ty, Claire promises to find a means of getting Nalia off-island as soon as she can.
During the departure, however, an earthquake separates Claire from the rest of her family along with Nalia. Not long after, the island falls to the Japanese army as Nalia hides Ty among the tribes Claire began studying. Claire dedicates herself to retrieving her son. Meanwhile Ty becomes more a creature of the jungle than a child of the empire, seeming to straddle the “primitive” and “civilized.”
Glorious Boy documents the awakening of Claire as nations dive into World War II. She learns “that ambition is worthless unless it’s rooted in human understanding” and is astute enough to understand that “prosperity” is often aligned with, almost synonymous with “slavery,” that those who are politically powerful and connected find deference to their desires, and that “colonial rules [prove to be] a tyranny of injustice, not to mention ineptitude.”
Glorious Boy by Aimee Liu. Red Hen Press, May 2020.
Reviewer bio: Bill Cushing writes and facilitates a writing group for 9 Bridges. His poetry collection, A Former Life, was released last year by Finishing Line Press.
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