City of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell (Henry Holt, September 28, 2010), 304 pages
Will Kiehn has grown up on a western Oklahoma farm, in a pacifist Mennonite family. His personal faith didn’t come easily, but it did come. When a missionary visits, he knows he must go to China, despite feeling inadequate.
The novel is based, in part, on Caldwell’s grandparents, who were missionaries to China in the first half of the 20th century.
This story is engrossing, mesmerizing. Not in the way those words are usually used, to mean fast-paced, though; rather, the narrative, the characters, pulled me along, kept me turning pages.
I really love this book. The writing is beautiful, and when you add that it’s set in China, features missionaries, Mennonites and some Mandarin … well, I was hooked.
The story is told from two points in time, and sections written from the perspective of Will are interspersed with journal entries written by Will’s wife, Katherine. The Kiehns’ life isn’t easy. They face money stress, interpersonal stress and ministry stress — and that doesn’t even include the pressures resulting from China’s tumultuous history during this time. The faith struggle in this book is palpable, real. This is the kind of book that asks more questions than it answers; that’s something I love!
If I could change anything, I might want a little more interaction with pacifism and its outworkings in the Kiehns’ lives. I’d also like to know which method of writing out the Chinese words was used, and why (I thought I remembered reading something along these lines, but now I can’t find it.)
Read an interview with the author at Christian Post.
About the author
Bo Caldwell is the author of The Distant Land of My Father, which is also set in China. She lives in northern California with her husband, novelist Ron Hansen.
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