BookBrowse Reviews City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

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City of Tranquil Light

A Novel

by Bo Caldwell

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2011, 304 pages

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A fictional love story about two young missionaries, set in early 20th c. China


Captivating and moving, The City of Tranquil Light transfixed all 14 of our First Impressions reviewers:
I loved this quietly powerful book, even though it was not "compelling" in the typical, cliff-hanging way (Denice B). I had a lot of things to do today, but the book held my attention to such a degree that I got up early and spent most of my day in my reading chair because I couldn't put this book down (Susan S). It's now almost mid-August. Since January 1, I have read 88 books, a list that includes contemporary literary fiction, quality non-fiction, and acknowledged classics. City of Tranquil Light is the best so far, and I look forward eagerly to Ms. Caldwell's next work (Darra W).

Here's why:
This simply but exquisitely written novel tells the story of two young Mennonites, Katherine and Will Siehn, who journey to mainland China in 1906 to offer their lives in missionary service. The narrative is told from two viewpoints: his recollections as an elderly man returned to America, and hers through her diary. The resulting "weave" is a quietly powerful story of a marriage, commitment, and a land moving from imperial rule toward an uncertain political future (Darra W). They face hardships of war, isolation, bandits, and death; yet, they find that God sustains them and their love for Him and each other deepens (Eileen C). This novel is a true love story: the love of a young couple for each other; their love of their God and their faith in Him; and their love for their adopted country, China, and their village, Ch'eng An Fu, that became so important to their lives (Irene M).

The author does an incredible job placing the reader in the story and more than once I had tears of sadness or joy as I read about the sacrifices and the impact faith had on so many people. Additionally, I loved the format of using diary letters written from Katherine's perspective which gave one the sense of the event as it actually happened, partnered with Will's perspective from his memories looking back. As a Christian, I keep thinking about a line in the book: "I learned from what you did, not what you said" (Debra P). While I have mixed feelings about "missionary work," this story gives real-life details about the dedication and difficulties of two such workers. The love story of an enviably close and sweet marriage built on faith is such a refreshing break from the self-centered, crass stuff of our modern culture. The book also offers an engrossing way to learn about China's civil unrest in the early 1900s (Denice B).

This is just the loveliest book I've read in a long time - Bo Caldwell has expertly written a very beautiful story that had me in the palm of her hand the whole time I was reading. Even a week later, I still can't get the characters out of my mind (Jo K). I was captivated by their love for each other, by their unrelenting belief and faith in what they were doing, and by their selfless compassion for the people they came to know and love in China - a country they quickly took on as their own (C Hoffman).

This review was originally published in October 2010, and has been updated for the October 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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