Like her first book, Bo Caldwell’s new novel is set in China. Instead of bustling, commercial, cosmopolitan Shanghai, in City of Tranquil Light Caldwell tells the story of Will Kiehn, a Mennonite missionary in a remote provincial town. Arriving in 1906 and staying until 1933, Kiehn and his wife Katherine survive the upheavals in China, making friends with various neighbors, converts, and functionaries.
The pacifist missionary makes a surprisingly effective observer of life on the other side of the world—and Caldwell inserts passages from his late wife’s diary to illustrate a different perspective on events, when he’s not. Don’t let the missionary’s point of view put you off, this is a book describing a half-century’s worth of cross-cultural encounters worth reading regardless of your religious views.
My only reservation is the regular appearance of a bandit, Hsiao Lao. He’s there for purposes of plot, not parable, but he arrives at too many opportune moments not to appear contrived.
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