In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the
ears and eyes of the entire country. A two-and-a-half-year-old girl
has fallen down a mine shaft"the only sound is an astonished tiny
intake of breath from Ursula as she goes down, like a penny into the
slot of a bank, disappeared, gone." It is as if all hope for life on
the planet is bound up in the rescue of this little girl, the first
and only child of a young woman of Finnish extraction and her
Chinese-American husband. One TV viewer following the action notes
that the Wong family lives in a decrepit mobile home and wonders why
all this time and money is being "wasted on that half-breed
In response, the novel takes a breathtaking leap back in time to
visit Ursula's most remarkable ancestors: a third-century-B.C. Chinese
alchemist; an orphaned playmate of a seventeenth-century Swedish
queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer (on
exotic Chinese topics) traveling the Midwest at the end of the
nineteenth century; her great-great-grandfather Jake Maki, who died at
twenty-nine in a Michigan iron mine cave-in; and others whose richness
and history are contained in the induplicable DNA of just one
personlittle Ursula Wong.
Ursula's story echoes those of her ancestors, many of whom so
narrowly escaped not being born that her very existencelike
ourscomes to seem a miracle. Ambitious and accomplished, Ursula, Under is, most of all, wonderfully entertaininga
daring saga of culture, history, and heredity.
The Washington Post - Michael Anft Ursula, Under - Hill's great big novel - ditches organizational showiness in favor of a directness that puts all the weight of judgment on stories of ancients and moderns, waifs and royals, the ascetic and the damned. Primarily the tale of Ursula Wong, a 2-year-old who has fallen down an abandoned mine shaft, the novel shows Hill is up to the formidable task of delivering on her unpretentious modus operandi.
Wildly uneven, awesomely ambitious: a mess, in fact, but you can't help but be impressed by the author's commitment and boldness.
Unwieldy but inventive, this is a promising debut.
Library Journal - Ann H. Fisher
Hill's mosaic-like telling underlies the impact of Ursula's plight and her parents' anguish, finally leading the reader to an understanding of the unique value of each individual. This should do well in public libraries; warmly recommended.
Booklist - Deborah Donovan
In an elaborate "six degrees of separation" game, the author reveals centuries-old ties between relatives of both Annie and Justin, creating a magically entertaining, poetic, and heartfelt look at the often overlooked significance of extended family.
Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
Extravagant and absorbing ... I didn't want it to end.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Judy Ancestors and Angels This is one of the more amazing books I've ever read. Ursula Hill, who is also a mother of 12 children and has a PhD in literature, is a very hip woman. She is one of those writers, like Margaret Atwood, who shows rather than tells what feminism... Read More
Rated of 5
by James Blacklock Promising Debut In lesser hands the audacious scheme of this novel might have reeked of gimmick. As it is you never doubt that Ingrid Hill is trying to write the best book she can.
On a crystalline, perfectly blue morning in June, a young married couple... Read More
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