Summary and book reviews of Heaven Lake by John Dalton

Heaven Lake

By John Dalton

Heaven Lake
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2004,
    451 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2005,
    464 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

Heaven Lake is about many things: China, God, passion, friendship, travel, even the reckless smuggling of hashish. But above all, this extraordinary debut is about the mysteries of love.

Vincent Saunders has graduated from college, left his small hometown in Illinois, and arrived in Taiwan as a Christian volunteer. After opening a ministry house, he meets a wealthy Taiwanese businessman, Mr. Gwa, who tells Vincent that on his far travels to western China he has discovered a beautiful young woman living near the famous landmark Heaven Lake. Elegant, regal, clever, she works as a lowly clerk in the local railway station. Gwa wishes to marry her, but is thwarted by the political conflict between China and Taiwan. In exchange for a sum of money, will Vincent travel to China on Gwa's behalf, take part in a counterfeit marriage, and bring her back to Taiwan for Gwa to marry legitimately? Vincent, largely innocent about the ways of the world and believing that marriage is a sacrament, says no. Gwa is furious.

Soon, though, everything Vincent understands about himself and his vocation in Taiwan changes. Supplementing his income from his sparsely attended Bible-study classes, he teaches English to a group of enthusiastic schoolgirls -- and it is his tender, complicated friendship with a student that forces Vincent to abandon the ministry house and sends him on a path toward spiritual reckoning. It also causes him to reconsider Gwa's extraordinary proposition.

What follows is not just an exhilarating -- sometimes harrowing -- journey to a remote city in China, but an exploration of love, passion, loneliness, and the nature of faith. John Dalton's exquisite narrative arcs across China as gracefully as it plumbs the human heart, announcing a major new talent.

Contents

Part One: The Volunteer

Part Two: Sister Gloria, Sister Moon

Part Three: Best Intentions

Part Four: The Goat Herder

Part Five: The Other Half


Chapter Nine

Without chagrin or even a trace of contradiction, Jonathan Hwang informed Vincent that his new class at the Ming-da Academy would be comprised of forty-two teenaged girls. "The contest and the judging were both fair," Hwang said, and then wiggled his bony fingers to suggest the fickle nature of chance. "They're meeting with the principal now. I'll send them over as soon as they finish." He made an aloof, stiff-shouldered bow and left Vincent with a key to the language laboratory.

Once inside, Vincent found the room's consoles and chairs in pristine order. He practiced writing on the glossy board with erasable markers, forming loops and squiggled lines and words, and then wiping away everything but the word welcome, which he underlined in red and blue. Standing at the head of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
  1. Heaven Lake is part American-abroad story set in Taiwan and China, part harrowing travel adventure filled with mystery and intrigue, part spiritual odyssey, and, ultimately, a surprising love story. Discuss the ways in which the novel succeeds or fails on each of these levels.

  2. Inspired by missionary zeal, Vincent Saunders travels seven thousand miles from home in Illinois in hopes of spreading the word of Christ to the residents of the Taiwanese town of Toulio. What is the reader to make of his harsh and judgmental first impressions, views that Vincent himself admits are "uncharitable" and "graceless to the core"? What kind of temperament do you think it takes to be a successful ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

An excellent novel, almost on a par with the Poisonwood Bible. The only weakness is that Vincent starts off as such a dull character that it is a difficult to stay interested in his development. But as the book progresses and his zeal tarnishes, he became a lot more likable.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Sober and searching yet sublimely comic, this impressive debut about a modern-day missionary in Taiwan charts a journey away from reflexive faith and toward a broader understanding of the world and its ways. This is a noteworthy first novel by a writer to watch.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Dalton's debut novel is an evocative, beautiful exploration of modern-day China...Powerful and rewarding reading.

Library Journal - David A Berone

Vincent's passage from a sheltered, religious life into reality is filled with dramatic episodes and unique characters that make this an exciting page-turner. Recommended.

The Washington Post - Larry Tritten

Dalton, who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Jen Jen Chang, spent several years in Taiwan, where he himself was once offered $10,000 to become a surrogate husband. Fluent in Mandarin, he knows China and shows it to us with meticulousness and enthusiasm. If Vincent is a less than fascinating character, the story of his adventures in this intriguing country captivate our attention and hold it throughout.

Barnes & Noble

A young American missionary experiences the darker side of human nature -- including his own -- in this intense, spellbinding novel.

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Beyond the Book

John Dalton was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of seven children. Upon graduation from college, he received a plane ticket to travel around the world, and so began an enduring interest in travel and foreign culture. During the late 1980s he lived in Taiwan for several years and traveled in Mainland China and other Asian countries. 

A few months after arriving in Taiwan he was propositioned by a man willing to pay him $10,000 if he traveled to the mainland, married a woman and brought her back with him. He didn't take him up on the offer!

News: Last week, Dalton was awarded the 1st prize for fiction in Barnes and ...

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