Chinese Yankee by Ruthanne Lum McCunn tells the true story of Hong Kong born Thomas Sylvanus (Ah Yee Way), an orphan brought to America for schooling in the mid-1850s, but enslaved in Baltimore. Only sixteen at the outbreak of war, Thomas ran north, joined the Freedom Army, and was blinded in the first major campaign. He failed to fully recover his sight and, deemed incapable of performing the duties of a soldier, was discharged. Yet he reenlisted twice, saved his regiment's colors during the bloodbath of Spotsylvania, was lamed at Cold Harbor, and survived 9 months imprisonment in the dreaded Andersonville stockade. His health broken, but his spirit intact, he battled for survival and justice for his family and himself until his death in 1891. He was, as the New York Times noted, "singular."
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This is a singular, almost unbelievable, story; a Chinese boy is taken by his benefactress to 1800s America to become a missionary, but gets tricked into slavery, escapes and joins the Union Army in the Civil War. It's one of those "against all odds" stories that make you wonder at the resiliency of the human spirit. I was quickly invested in the fate of Ah Yee Way. <br/><br/>Ruthanne McCunn has a stripped-down writing style that makes the action sound like it's being reported rather than made up. James Chen's narration gives brilliant life to the words, his differing characters, accents and voices, create a 3-D world in your ears. Together, you get a harrowing, and vivid experience.
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