Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Bo Caldwell’s “City of Tranquil Light”
Alternating between Will’s narrative and Katherine’s journal, Caldwell moves the story forward chronologically, beginning with Will’s first understanding of his call to missions. A young man in an Oklahoma farm family and expected to work as a Sunday School superintendent, Will hears a missionary to China speak to his church, and he knows.
Katherine, trained as a nurse, is also called to missions, following her older sister Naomi and brother-in-law Edward to China. She and Will meet on the journey, and he falls in love first. They eventually marry and establish their own mission in Kuang P’ing Ch’eng, City of Tranquil Light in northern China. Their years in the mission span the dying days of the imperial dynasty, the revolution of 1911, the era of bandits and warlords, the civil war between the south and the north (Chiang Kai-Chek’s Kuomintang army comes off equivalent to bandits here), and the beginning of the communist revolution and Japanese occupation prior to World War II.
Caldwell tells this story quietly and in a measured way, with narrative skills and what can only be described as a love of her characters. The reader comes to know of Will and Katherine and their devotion o each other and the people they work and live with. Even the minor characters are drawn expertly, filling in cultural and social details that make this novel so rich.
There is a kind of romance to stories about the history of missions in China, made all the more poignant by the eventual triumph of the communists and today the explosive growth of illegal house churches in spite of – or because of – government persecution. That romance is present in City of Tranquil Light, too, but so is the heartbreak, the often awful reality, the tragedy and sorrow and sacrifice. So, too is the commitment, the dedication and the love.
City of Tranquil Light is a beautiful story, quietly told.
(I received my copy of this book to review from The B&B Media Group, the marketing agency for City of Tranquil Light, published by Henry Holt.)