City of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
City of Tranquil Light is a quiet book - there's a lot going on, but the touch is barely there, most of the time. The tale of two Mennonite missionaries on the Great China Plain, the day-to-day sorrows and triumphs of these ordinary people are compelling. There are a few "loud" moments (the beheadings, for example) but that only makes them stand out more. The decision to tell the story through Will's remembering and Katherine's journal adds to the slightly removed tone.
One of the big complaints about historical fiction is when real famous people are interjected into the tale. Here, the story of China's evolution from the Manchu dynasty to the People's Republic is almost a distant backdrop to the daily lives. The only real clash comes when the armies meet, and when Will decides that he and Katherine will be safer (and healthier) back in America.
The sorrows in their lives (loss of a child, losing family when so far away, the famine) are balanced by the joy they have in their work and in their friends. There's no great theological thrust, just a quiet thread of faith that runs through their story (unlike, say, Gilead, which feels more religious in tone).
ARC provided by publisher.
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