Book Bag

Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2014

By Andrew Lam

Bondfire Books


Between his work as an eye surgeon at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and a professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine, Andrew Lam keeps busy. Yet Lam, of Longmeadow, somehow finds the time to write, too: His 2013 book “Saving Sight,” in which he detailed some of his work and profiled famous ophthalmologists and doctors who developed new techniques to save eyesight, won favorable reviews.

In his new book, “Two Sons of China,” Lam has tried his hand at historical fiction in evoking a largely forgotten theater of World War II: China’s epic struggle with Japan, following the Japanese invasion and occupation of much of eastern China in 1937. The fight ultimately led to civil war in China, as Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces turned against each other once their common Japanese enemy was defeated.

“Two Sons of China” was inspired by a particular chapter from this story. In what was known as the “Dixie Mission,” American troops in 1944 went to the Communist stronghold of Yenan in northern China to observe the Communists’ guerilla war against the Japanese, and to see if the U.S. government should establish long-term relations with these Chinese, led by Mao Zedong.

In Lam’s novel, U.S. Lieutenant David Parker, born and raised in China by missionary parents, is bored with his desk job at Nationalist headquarters in Chungking. He jumps at the chance to join the Dixie Mission in Yenan, where his fluency in Mandarin makes him a valuable assest.

Once there, he meets and attempts to befriend Lin Yuen, a reclusive but skilled Communist leader. Yuen is less than thrilled that the talkative Parker has been assigned by Communist leaders, including Mao Zedong, to take part in Yuen’s next operation behind Japanese lines; Yuen’s superiors believe that by cooperating with the Americans, they’ll receive needed U.S. aid.

But Yuen is less interested in political issues than tactical ones. “He had no interest in pleasing this American. Playing tour guide in a war zone could jeopardize a mission and put everyone in danger.”

Despite this rough beginning, and even though both men have deeply held, clashing convictions, the battles they go on to fight — and the horrors they witness — forge a brotherhood that ulimately transforms them.

And finally, following the defeat of Japan, the two men’s loyalties and their bond will be tested again as America is forced to take sides in China’s impending civil war.

Lam, who earned a degree in history from Yale University before going on to medical school, writes that he’s studied this era of Chinese history and been bothered by how little of it seems to be known in the western world, despite U.S. involvement in China during World War II. Now, “Two Sons of China,” as one critic puts it, offers “a compelling narrative for readers wanting to learn more about the ‘other side’ of the world.”

Andrew Lam will read from his new book on July 9 at 7 p.m. at Forbes Library in Northampton.


By Raymond Coppinger

Skyhorse Publishing

Raymond Coppinger, professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College — and one of the founding professors of the college — is an expert on dogs, having published dozens of books and research papers on canine behavior and history. He’s also a dedicated fisherman — and given how important hunting dogs are for hunters, Coppinger believes it’s important to document the kinds of dogs that can assist anglers.

Thus we have “Fishing Dogs,” Coppinger’s tongue-in-cheek guide to the breeds of dogs that, well, might exist in a better world — canines like the Monsoon dog that lies in a boat until the craft has taken on too much water, then leaps up and unleashes powerful “epicentric rotational reciprocations” that dispel all the excess bilge water.

Or consider ballast dogs, such as the Maine bow dog, a breed that, according to Coppinger, sits upright on the bow of his master’s ship, thereby helping balance, say, a small boat that rides heavy in the stern because of the weight of its motor.

Coppinger’s book, accompanied by amusing illustrations by Peter Pinardi, is written in 
an engaging, conversational style as the author traces the “history” of breeding fishing dogs and their various uses. Coppinger, who lives in Montague, notes that floating mat dogs, given that they’re waterproof, “can be draped over minnow pails when the sun is hot or over lunch bags on rainy days.”

On a less satiric note, Coppinger and his wife, Lorna, founded the Livestock Guarding Dog Project at Hampshire College in 1976. Their work involved investigating the behavior of a new kind of dog for U.S. farmers and ranchers that, the college says, led to greater understanding of early developmental behavior of dogs.