Friday, November 5, 2010

Review: City of Tranquil Light

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

Publication Date: September 2010
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Format: Hardcover, 304 pp
ISBN-13: 9780805092288
ISBN: 0805092285

(Received for review from Henry Holt)

Synopsis (Book Blurb:

A powerful novel about a young couple whose marriage and faith are put to the test in revolutionary China

Will Kiehn is an "ordinary man," seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest, when, having felt a call from God, he moves to the vast North China Plain in 1906. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine, who is also a dedicated nurse.

Early in their marriage Will and Katherine find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty, which plunges the country into years of civil war. As they work to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng - City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love - they face hardships they could not have imagined: a personal loss that shakes them both to the core, the constant threat of bandits, the physical dangers and tragedies of warlord China. But while they are continually tested both spiritually and physically, they are also rewarded in ways that leave them forever changed.

Told through Will and Katherine's alternating viewpoints - and inspired by the lives of the author's maternal grandparents - City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of a beautiful but torn nation. A deeply spiritual book, it shows how those who work to teach others often have the most to learn and is further evidence that Bo Caldwell writes "vividly and with great historical perspective" (San Jose Mercury News).


I was especially interested in this book because I have several friends who are serving as missionaries in countries all over the world. At one point I attended a "Bible" college and studied foreign missions myself. I was really excited to get the opportunity to review this book because of the theme and because Bo Caldwell writes with such authenticity and realism. This novel is a tender portrait based on the remarkable lives of her maternal grandparents, serving in war-torn China in the early nineteen hundreds.

Will Kiehn was a farmer in the Midwest when he felt the call of God on his life. He moved to Northern China to answer that call and found a lot more than he expected, including the love of a young woman named Katherine. Katherine was in China working as a nurse. Together their life is filled with great joy, as well as great personal loss. Their day to day life is fraught with dangers that few can imagine. China is in the midst of great inner turmoil and the Kiehn's are caught in the cross hairs as they attempt to minister to people of a city called, Kuang P'ing Ch'eng - City of Tranquil Light.

I was really impressed by how Caldwell was able to take the lives of her grandparents and describe them with such depth and feeling that readers could almost believe she was right there with them in China, watching their day to day lives. Mixing fact with fiction, Caldwell really brings them to life. I think the author was able to portray this time period in China's history with great understanding and authenticity. Her research must have been very in depth and time consuming, to be that accurate. I think it's interesting to see how Caldwell shows the hardships that missionaries during this time must have faced. Everything from famine, to rejection of their beliefs and back to widespread violence and death. Missionaries have to be strong people who are determined to succeed in the quest that God has given them. Caldwell shows the great strength of her grandparents and the deep and abiding faith they had in God.

I really enjoyed this book and felt that it was a story that readers will fall in love with. It has all the action of a good thriller and the depth of a great memoir. Will and Katherine come alive and walk in the readers lives. Their struggles become real and poignant. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the mission field and to readers who are interested in this desperate time in Chinese history. The descriptions of the 1926 uprising will leave readers with racing hearts and fingernails bitten to the quick. This is a great novel and I look forward to more from author Bo Caldwell.

City of Tranquil Light is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Bo Caldwell is the author of the national bestseller The Distant Land of My Father. Her short fiction has been published in Ploughshares, Story, Epoch and other literary journals. A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, she lives in northern California with her husband, novelist Ron Hansen.