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The Distant Land of My Father: A Novel of Shanghai [Kindle Edition]

Bo Caldwell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)

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Book Description

For Anna, the narrator of Bo Caldwell's richly lyrical and vivid first novel, growing up in the magical world of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s creates a special bond between her and her father. He is the son of missionaries, a smuggler, and a millionaire who leads a charmed but secretive life. When the family flees to Los Angeles in the face of the Japanese occupation, he chooses to remain, believing his connections and luck will keep him safe.

He's wrong. He survives, only to again choose Shanghai over his family during the Second World War. Anna and her father reconnect late in his life, when she finally has a family of her own, but it is only when she discovers his extensive journals that she is able to fully understand him and the reasons for his absences. With the intensity and appeal of When We Were Orphans, also set in Shanghai at the same time, The Distant Land of My Father tells a moving and unforgettable story about a most unusual father-daughter relationship.

Editorial Reviews Review

The Distant Land of My Father begins like a fairy tale: "My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s.... On the day he was born, in the province of Shantung, neighbors presented my missionary grandparents, the only Americans for miles, with noodles in great abundance and one hundred chicken eggs, in honor of their son's birth." To the young Anna Schoene, life in Shanghai is indeed magical. There are servants, a luxurious villa, a beautiful mother who smells like Chanel No. 5, and a young, handsome, polo-playing father. Unfortunately, her father is also a smuggler and speculator who loves his freewheeling life more than anything (or anyone) else. Despite warnings, Schoene refuses to leave Shanghai even after the Japanese invade, and his wife and child retreat to Los Angeles; later, he survives imprisonment and torture only to once again choose Shanghai over his family--this time with the Communists moving in.

Bo Caldwell's sepia-toned evocation of 1930s Shanghai is lovely and physical, and given the built-in drama of its setting, this first novel ought to have the vividness of a classic movie. Yet the characters remain oddly flat while world events swirl around them. Great chunks of historical exposition seem largely undigested, while Schoene's final change of heart fails to ring true. In a sense, however, these shortcomings are beside the point. The Distant Land of My Father is above all a tragic romance, albeit one with an unusual love interest. Schoene is so besotted with Shanghai that his wife and daughter are scarcely as real to him as the city itself. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

Caldwell's memoirlike first novel begins in 1930s Shanghai, a city where enterprising foreign entrepreneurs can quickly become millionaires and just as quickly lose everything as victims of the volatile political climate. Six-year-old narrator Anna Schoene tells the tale of her insurance salesman/smuggler father, Joseph, the son of American missionaries, whose life-long obsession with the city's opportunities gains him great riches, though it ultimately costs him his family and almost his life. Anna worships her father. Her life in Shanghai has been one of privilege, thanks to his shady business dealings. But after a harrowing kidnapping incident, and frightened by the Japanese invasion of China, her mother, Genevieve, flees home to South Pasadena, Calif., taking Anna with her. Joseph is convinced that his connections will keep him safe and refuses to leave. Imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese and subsequently the Chinese Communists, he survives, although he loses everything and is finally deported back to America in 1954. Over the years Anna has distanced herself emotionally from her father, realizing he needed money and power more than he needed his family. But when the physically broken and spiritually reborn Joseph returns to California, he reconciles with the grown Anna and her family. The memoir-style structure lends the characters a certain flatness, but Caldwell's even tone gives the tale a panoramic elegance. Though lacking in narrative vitality, the novel is interesting from a historical perspective and vivid with details of prewar Shanghai and Los Angeles.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1700 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B001OMHSZI
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC (April 29, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,369 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
130 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I trust you will be just as Wowed as I was! February 22, 2007
Let me first explain how I came upon reading DISTANT LAND. I was in Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, CA and noticed the book being promoted. I actually bought it thinking it was a memoir and only upon getting it home realized that it was a fictional memoir, in fact a first novel. Then I noted in Vroman's magazine that each year the city of Pasadena picks one book for the whole city to read, so that the city has a common cultural experience. For 2007 that book is DISTANT LAND. At the time I did not know the city of South Pasadena plays a significant roll in the narrative. Then next I had to over come the fact that I am not particularly found of novels told in the first person as DISTANT LANDS is narrated by Anna who we meet as a young girl in Shanghai in love with her surroundings and with her father. A Father who appears at ease with being a blond, blue eyed native born Chinese (born of missionary parents). The novel is epic (taking place from the late 30s to the early 80s), yet intimate and a very unique emotional telling of Anna's life and her Father's love of Shanghai which we discover consumes him as he commits one poor value judgment over another. The book is brilliant in creating a sense of place and character, you are constantly surprised and will find the last 100 pages will rip tears from right out of your eyes. I understand this is Ms. Caldwell's first novel and it is simply an amazing, entertaining, and enlightening achievement in what some might classify as an historical novel. But it is really in the end an intimate story of emotions, choices, and consequences, told through terribly real people that have to learn that love is
overcoming the serious faults of those we should (and must) love.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like being transported to 1930's Shanghai October 20, 2004
I read this book in one day; I could not put it down. I felt as if I couldn't read it fast enough; it was like being on a train whose momentum I could not stop, and didn't wish to stop. The author's exploration of bustling, commercial Shanghai in the 1930's and the Japanese invasion of Shanghai from the perspective of the child narrator (Anna) rendered it very real; I had read hardly anything about Shanghai during this historical period, and the writing made me feel as if I were there. I could picture the buildings on the main street, as described by Anna's father and memorized by the young Anna; I could taste the food sold by vendors; I could feel the fear gripping the city as the Japanese invaded. As the narrator grows, the story takes the reader to California, where Anna and her mother settle after escaping Shanghai at the time of the invasion. The story is a poignant exploration of the relationship between Anna and her father, who decides to remain in Shanghai despite the invasion, and cannot bring himself to permanently return to his wife and daughter, even after his imprisonment later in the novel. As a child, Anna is almost awed by, and worships, her father; he is the pinnacle of a handsome, successful businessman. As she grows older in American, Anna is discouraged by her father's seeming disinterest in her and her mother, and grows resentful toward and emotionally closed off from him. Anna's father ultimately returns to California in an effort to renew his relationship with his estranged daughter. It is a tribute to the author's abilities that the reader cannot help but sympathize with Anna's father when he realizes that his life's decisions and hopes have been delusions, and that Shanghai never brought him what is truly important in life. I was truly moved at several points in this novel, by the author's exploration of relationships and the sweeping nature of historical forces. The ending was also very powerful.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a treasure October 23, 2001
This book is a treasure, a novel that transported me back in time. It is a vivid journey back to the distant land of the narrator's childhood, the city of Shanghai, her father's city which he could not bring himself to leave. The book is beautifully, historically accurate. I spent my early childhood in the Far East and have visited Shanghai. I recognized the sights, sounds, tastes, and allure of this magical city. But more than a journey through time and distance, this book is a journey within, to the depths of compassion and the narrator's own self-discovery. It holds a world of experience between its covers, blending human weakness and dignity, power and beauty. Reading this book is to follow the path with heart.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Twists and turns and emotional burn...but with rewards October 30, 2007
I had a different experience with The Distant Land of My Father than many of the other readers. I applaud Caldwell's detailed research and imagination until about the center of the book. She truly captures a small child's fascination with her parents. However, the book takes too many wide turns. It jumps from an extremely impersonal narration of events that happen to Anna's father to overly emotional moments at home. She creates quality descriptions for the first maybe 250 pages of the book and then its one Lifetime event after another. Her baby, her mother's illness, her father's sudden presence. The emotional experiences are problematic because half-way through the book you realize that Genevieve and Joseph Schoen's characters are not very well-developed even though the whole book centers around Anna's longing for her father. The characters are so stereotypical in some ways..the absent father, the codependent mother, the all-knowing grandmother. The perfect new husband that teaches middle school. While I am truly grateful to have read the book overall, for some reason I lost interest after about 250 pages when the book became a mini soap box. I hope that my sense of being pandered to emotionally was simply a misjudgement. I think afficionados of historical fiction will enjoy some of this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a very good story of redemption
Published 10 days ago by Lady Di
3.0 out of 5 stars Moving
This novel was difficult for me to put down. The history- it captures your imagination. It is so well written I felt as though I was there. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Joy
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful read
Excellent and poignant storytelling!
Published 20 days ago by Robert Spezzano
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read and well written
While the book started a little slow it picked up speed, character development and story line. I didn't know much about the history of
Shanghai but looked up information on... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alaska the 49th State
4.0 out of 5 stars Shanghai in the hands of missionaries' sons!
For those of us interested in old Shanghai and missionaries in China before WWII, this novel is an interesting journey although not based on personal experience. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mary McGreevey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful book! Hard to put down.
Published 1 month ago by Susan J. Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I enjoyed this book very much.
Published 1 month ago by hoser
5.0 out of 5 stars A father and a daughter
Could not put this book until the wee hours and again during the day. A great story about a very dysfunctional family. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mary Ann Argentine
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed reading this book
I enjoyed reading this book, shows all the changes shanghai went through from semi-colonial times in the
nineteen twenties, to the Japanese war and occupation, then the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by RAFAEL F MERCADO
5.0 out of 5 stars Shanghai comes alive
I really enjoyed this story. My son lives in Shanghai and I so enjoyed visiting him in this most interesting of cities. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cheryl Bingham
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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.

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