Undulating and sensual, City of Tranquil Light adorns itself with soft prose, hard truths, and a regal love story set in Kuang P’ing Ch’Eng (City of Tranquil Light), China in the year 1906. Will Kiehn, a young Oklahoma farm boy, meets Edgar, a missionary in China, when Edgar visits Will’s family farm. Will realizes that he must go to China with Edgar in a moment of quiet epiphany. On the long sea voyage to China, he meets Katherine, Edgar’s sister in law. Katherine sees the tenderness and healing soul within Will, and they decide to marry.
Stepping silently as a doe, this story skips like pebbles, rippling circles across a golden pond. The two missionaries, filled with joy when their daughter is born, fall deeply into grief when she dies at 11 months of dysentery. Will and Katherine, both holding moments of deep confusion in their God, immerse themselves in their work. Will preaches to the Chinese people whom he finds haunting and human, while Katherine, with nursing skills, tends to their illnesses. They encounter physical danger in the form of bandits, warlords, and an increasingly unstable political upheaval in China of the 1900’s. As they touch the people whose lives become entwined with theirs, Will and Katherine, fully fluent in Mandarin, come to see China as their home.
Through Will’s narration as an old man and Katherine’s current journal entries, we are privy to a great love and devotion to each other and their chosen land, China. When they leave after 27 years because they have become a political liability to their people through the new government, and because Katherine’s health declines, their loss looms hard in their hearts.
A story about spirituality, human endurance, courage, connectedness and community, every chapter in this book endears us more tightly into the loveliness of Caldwell’s narrative and prose. A quietly consuming novel, the exotic setting, the historical arena of 20th century China, and the devotion of two people determined to make a difference provides a novel to be reckoned with. Katherine and WIl never take their teaching and healing for granted; they feel that their Chinese friends and community provide them with much more than they give.
This novel explodes in its intrepid, soft and sensual story of a country that unravel itself to two foreign missionaries. Based on the true story of Bo Caldwell’s grandparents, it never loses sight of its goal. Never preachy, never religious, it portrays great joy and great pain as the couple presents a united front and a devotedness to life and love that reaches beyond loss, grief, brutality and the horrors of war and torture.
Like Eli Weisel, the spirit of this novel soars, and we lift up right along with it. Elegant, prosaic writing stands behind a brilliant narrative, as it should. Lingering and authentic, the City of Tranquil Light redirects the human spirit and enfolds the reader in a dramatic love story both profound and meaningful.
One of the best novels I have read, whether atheist, agnostic, Christian or not, the heart of this novel beats and flutters into our hearts, as it reaches beyond denomination into faith and trust in the human condition. Caldwell holds the human spirit within the palm of her hand, and offers it up as a gift.
City of Tranquil Light: A Novel is available for purchase at Amazon.com and your local book retailer.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.
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