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City of Tranquil Light: A Novel Hardcover – September 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092288
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Caldwell (The Distant Land of My Father) draws from the biographies of missionaries in northern China during the turbulent first half of the 20th century in this mixed second novel. It traces the story of two young, hopeful Midwesterners--shy, bright Oklahoma farmer Will Kiehn and brave Cleveland deaconess Katherine Friesen--as they journey to the brink of China's civil war in the isolated town of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng: the "City of Tranquil Light." In the unforgiving "land of naught," they live the joys and perils of missionary life, including famine, spiritual rejection, the dramatic 1926 rise of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang, and the forcible, often violent, exile of fellow missionaries. Throughout the unrelenting hardship, the remarkably stable couple remain in China, bound to their newfound roots and to the ideals of their larger mission. At times this novel seems more about rhetoric than relationships--the couple's unwavering dedication to each other and their mission is unbelievable at times--but Katherine's diary entries are emotionally deft, capturing the romance and anxiety of cultural estrangement.
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From Booklist

Caldwell set her first novel in pre-WWII Shanghai. She returns to China in her second, inspired by the story of her missionary grandparents. Her fictionalized version begins in 1906 when Will, 21, and Katherine, a year older, join a group of Mennonite missionaries on their journey from Seattle to China––he an enraptured recruit, she a nursing student whose sister is married to the group’s charismatic leader. Several years later Will and Katherine marry, and are sent to Kuang P’ing Ch’eng, or the City of Tranquil Light, on the North China Plain, where they stay for nearly 25 years. Caldwell masterfully interweaves their remarkable sojourn—during which they run an ever-expanding church, establish an orphanage, and struggle with their faith when their cherished daughter dies of dysentery at 11 months—with China’s tumultuous history during those years marked by civil war. Caldwell perceptively explores the deepening faith shared by her grandparents while at the same time painting a vivid portrait of the country they came to love more deeply than their own. --Deborah Donovan

More About the Author

Bo Caldwell grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Stanford University, where she later held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and a Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing. She has received a fellowship in literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council of Santa Clara County, the Georgia Shreve Prize in Fiction at Stanford University, and the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. Her first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was published in hardcover by Chronicle Books in October of 2001 and in paperback by Harcourt in September of 2002. The book was a national bestseller, one of the Los Angeles Times' Best Books of 2001, and a Booksense 76 pick in both hardcover and paperback. The book was also selected for community reading programs in Pasadena ("One City, One Story"), Santa Clara County ("Silicon Valley Reads"), and the City of Claremont ("On the Same Page"). Foreign rights were sold to the U.K., the Netherlands, France, and Italy. Her second novel, City of Tranquil Light, published by Henry Holt in September of 2010, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, an October 2010 Indie Next Notable, and one of O Magazine's Ten Must Reads for October 2010. Foreign rights have been sold in Italy and Turkey. Her personal essays have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and America Magazine, and her short stories have been included in Story, Ploughshares, Epoch, and other literary journals. She lives in Northern California with her husband, novelist Ron Hansen.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful story, beautifully written.
City of Tranquil Light, by Bo Caldwell, is the story of Will and Katherine Kiehn, Mennonite missionaries to China in the first half of the twentieth century.
Readers who believe in the life changing power of the Christian message will love this book as a glorious example of dedication and faith in action.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Pippa Lee VINE VOICE on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"I have learned to do what God places in front of me, whatever that is," Will Kiehn says as he explains to Hsiao Lao, the bandit chief, his commitment to help anybody in need, be that a sick old farmer or an injured thief. Those same words could also sum up Will's life story in "City of Tranquil Light."

In 1909 Will and his wife, Katherine arrived in Kuang P'ing Ch'eng (City of Tranquil Light), in the North China Plain to establish a new Mennonite church. Little did they know then that they would stay there for nearly 25 years and would come to think of China as their home. Author Bo Caldwell, tells their story through Will, a widower now, in his eighties, and living in a retirement home in California, as he vividly remembers the trials and tribulations of becoming a pastor and of earning the trust of the inhabitants of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng. Caldwell cleverly intersperses Katherine's diary entries with Will's narration thus bringing up her in-the-moment feelings to his remembrance of the events they lived through together. And they lived through a lot: personal losses, bandits, famine, earthquakes and civil war.

Caldwell was inspired by her grandparents' missionary experiences for this book and even gave their last name to her protagonists. Her portrait of missionaries in China is one of individuals who answered God's call and strove to serve Him --despite many sacrifices and hardships-- with passion. In Kuang P'ing C'heng, Will preaches the Word of God while Katherine provides medical care in her clinic. Rather than trying to impose their beliefs, Will and Katherine work selflessly in the hopes that through their words and actions others will come to accept God.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By ephemeral on August 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The City of Tranquil Light tells the story of two American missionaries who fall in love with each other and their paths in life while working in early 20th century China. The book is narrated primarily by Will, with intermittent diary entries from his wife, Katherine. Both Will and Katherine are characterized primarily by their Christian faith, and as the bulk of the plot revolves around their missionary work, quite a lot of space is devoted to contemplation of God and accounts of proselytizing. There are non-Christian viewpoints expressed by minor characters, but they are few and far between. Still, the book itself is not a propaganda piece, and the Christian element is not overwhelming to readers who do not follow the faith.

The author does a good job of creating the character of Will, but Katherine isn't as fleshed out and isn't nearly as compelling or relatable. The turbulence of pre-revolutionary China and the desperation of war and famine move the book along and add tension and suspense. While the novel isn't amazing, it was interesting to read from a historical perspective. I'd recommend it to people interested in China's history.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on September 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Those words were spoken by Will Kiehn, one of the protagonists in City of Tranquil Light: A Novel. He and his wife, Katharine, went to China as missionaries in the early twentieth century. He relates his story as an old man, retired in southern California. He is also a widower and perhaps his most prized possession is, in his words, "my wife's diary, a thin volume I never read while she was alive but whose pages I now know by heart." He adds, "I was her husband for over thirty-seven years....She taught me the self-discipline I lacked, believed I was capable of far more than I did, and loved me as a young man as well as an old one. She was the one and only love of my live."

As the story of their years in China unfolds, Will's narrative is seasoned with her diary entries, and the result is a poignant testament to a couple working for the Lord in a country where Christians made converts very laboriously, often being spat upon or threatened. Will's preaching was not really as effective as his wife's nursing of the poor villagers in the City of Tranquil Light; Katharine's healing medicines and techniques earned the friendship and trust of the people around them. For the two American Mennonites, who met on the trip over to China, the years they spent there were filled with the hardships of rudimentary living conditions, the dangers of bandits and civil wars, and their own personal tragedy. Yet, they loved the country they had journeyed to and stayed for decades, braving the threat of execution more than once. All the while, they both, by their actions, sought to bring their Chinese neighbors to Christ.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By PT Cruiser TOP 50 REVIEWER on August 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One of the things that impressed me the most about this story of an American husband and wife who were missionaries in China was their amazing patience, trust in God and their love for each other. The saga begins in the early 1900's, beginning with Will Kiehn who is a young farmer on his dad's land in Oklahoma and his meeting a missionary who is on his way back to China. Will finds him fascinating and is drawn to the idea of living in China as a missionary. He leaves soon after and meets his wife-to-be, Katherine, in Seattle just prior to boarding the ship that will take them to China.

Will becomes a preacher and Katherine a nurse, treating simple maladies as well as increasingly difficult ones. There is such a shortage of supplies in inland China where they live and any kind of medical doctor, that people ending up coming from miles around to be treated. Walking seems to be the primary way of moving between villages. Will asks Katherine to marry him at Christmas a little over a year after they arrive in China.

Will and Katherine ended up spending 27 years in China, and it became the country that they identified with, learning to speak Chinese and living among the people with very few supplies and no real luxuries. I was amazed at their patience with the conditions and their faith in God that seemed to keep them going. They were gentle souls in most ways but fierce in their determination to make things better.

Bo Caldwell did an excellent job of bringing their experiences, based on those of her grandfather and several other missionaries, to life. She tells the story in both Will's words and in Katherine's diary entries over the years. I had the feeling that I was there among them and could feel their love for each other. It was also a wake-up call that we all need now and then to make us realize how well we live and how much we have compared to many people in other parts of the word.
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