The Chinese American writer Gus Lee became known as a novelist with a gift for telling strongly autobiographical stories. He was born Augustus Samuel Jian-Sun Lee. His parents had emigrated to the United States during World War II, when the Chinese troops of Chiang Kai-shek were being routed by the Communists. His father was a well-educated military officer whose ancestors had been farmers. His mother came from a family that cherished education and religion. Lee was born two years after their arrival in San Francisco. Five years later his mother died, and his father remarried an American citizen from Pennsylvania. Gus Lee’s childhood was marked by the difficulties of coping with a new mother with significantly different, more Western ways, as well as by those of adapting to a neighborhood in the rough “panhandle” section of San Francisco.
In his first novel, China Boy, Lee describes some of the problems of a young boy, Kai Ting, as he tries to deal with his demanding stepmother and a predominantly African American neighborhood whose criminals and street toughs are intimidating to the young Chinese American boy. To avoid the constant beatings he was taking on the streets, Ting becomes a member of the neighborhood YMCA, where he learns to box and wrestle while developing his muscles with weights. Soon he is able to hold his own in street battles, even becoming somewhat intimidating to others through his husky physique. Lee has stated that his life was significantly improved by the influence from the teachers he met at the YMCA.
Upon returning home, however, he was often caught between two cultures: His mother had always wanted him to grow up in the Chinese culture, whereas his stepmother wanted him to become Americanized. Moreover, his father wanted him to follow his footsteps and pursue a military career. Lee did eventually enroll at West Point Academy.
Lee’s second book, Honor and Duty, tells a fictionalized version of the author’s life at West Point. Kai Ting, Lee’s alter ego, is exposed to demanding physical activity, harassment of incoming students, and the sometimes prejudiced view of his peers toward a Chinese...
(The entire section is 891 words.)