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Ursula, Under (Shannon Ravenel Books) Hardcover – January 6, 2004

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Hill's enchanting debut novel spans more than 2,000 years and is brimming with an engaging cast of characters. Annie and Justin Wong, who live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, are on a day trip exploring the area where Annie's Finnish great-grandfather died in a mine collapse in 1926. Suddenly their only child, Ursula, disappears down an abandoned shaft, setting off a monumental rescue attempt and accompanying media frenzy. The author leaves that predictable plot behind, focusing instead on the young girl's many ancestors--those with the most interest in her safe return. A second-century B.C.E. Chinese alchemist, a deaf Finnish peasant living in 700 C.E., the child born to a crippled Chinese girl in the 1600s, and more--"a crowd of all the people whose blood and lives went into this little girl," brought vividly to life. 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. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Hill's characters are vivid, clever, detailed, appealing; I wolfed the book down like a bowl of cookie dough." -- Wendy L. Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Hill's detail is astonishing, her images captivating. URSULA,UNDER is not short on entertainment." -- Detroit Free Press

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Product Details

  • Series: Shannon Ravenel Books
  • Hardcover: 476 pages
  • Publisher: A Shannon Ravenel Book; First Edition edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565123883
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565123885
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It is a wonderful book; and I'm still searching for another book that will give me the same, warm, fuzzy feeling I had when I finished this one.
Lucy's Lectern
Engaging characters take us on a fascinating trip through family history, reminding us that the past does matter, and the stories of our ancestor affect us today.
Ingrid Hill breathes life into this book in a way that creates extremely strong characters -- I often thought of them even when I wasn't reading.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mavis Biesanz on November 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Ursula, Under" is rich in wonderful stories of long ago and far away, leading through time and space to Upper Michigan in 2003.

And leading to one special life - that of a little girl who falls into an abandoned mine shaft. Stories of Ursula Wong's Chinese and Finnish ancestors are interwoven with nail-biting accounts of the gathering of rescue workers, TV crews, and gawkers.

Hill's consistent use of the present tense gives her stories a sense of forward movement - often urgent movement. Her clever interweaving and her reminders to the reader tie together times past and present, as well as far-apart places: China, Finland, Michigan.

Reading the first chapter, I fell in love with 2 1/2-year-old Ursula and her parents - Justin Wong, a Chinese-American gutter repairman and musician, and his Finnish-American wife, Annie Maki, a librarian. Then in Chapter Two, the author takes us back to ancient China, and the (over-long) story of a Chinese alchemist. Here the author's symphonic repetition of themes begins. Ursula has followed a deer into the woods; Qin Lao wonders at the deer that has somehow entered his walled garden. She falls into an abandoned copper mine; he works with cinnabar (the source of quicksilver) from a nearby mine.

In later chapters we meet other ancestors in the "cloud of witnesses" cheering on Ursula's rescuers: Deaf-mutes, like Qin Lao's servant Zhou(who just might be the true ancestor). Another foundling left, like Qin Lao, in a basket at a rich man's door. A brilliant Chinese princess with useless legs, whose Jesuit tutor helps her conceive the child she wants. Finnish immigrants working the iron and copper mines of Upper Michigan.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hill's debut novel is at once sprawling and tightly plotted, broad in scope and narrow in focus. It takes place over the course of one endless, terrifying day in the life of 2-year-old Ursula Wong's parents, and encompasses some of the thousands of years and generations that went into the making of that child.
Annie and Justin Wong are on a rare outing with their daughter in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Annie, a librarian, has developed an interest in her ancestors and they are exploring the area where her Finnish great-grandfather lived before his death in a 1926 mine explosion. They stop for a picnic and spot a deer in the trees. Ursula goes after it. It's a charmed moment: a lovely June day, a delighted child, happy, relaxed parents.
"She gives them a sign in mime: Watch me. Ursula's every gesture seems meant for the comedic stage. She is a natural. She tiptoes toward the treeline. The deer disappears deeper into the forest, as silent as breath. Ursula puts on a burst of speed, silent herself, looking back at Justin and Annie, steps into the trees, and disappears from sight. 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."
As Justin races off to find help and Annie cannot yet take in what we already know - that Ursula has fallen down an unmapped ventilation shaft - the narrative veers, following Annie's anguished thought: "So many generations, back into history and then prehistory, all concentrated into this one little girl."
At first Hill drops back only a generation. We meet Justin's warm-hearted mother, Mindy Ji, who never stopped loving Joe Cimmer, the musician who left them both when Justin was little older than Ursula.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Zinta Aistars on December 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
If I have for some time now been reading books to illuminate the meaning of life, here was a break to turn that coin on its other side and ask of its value. To ponder meaning, after all, assumes life has value. And if it does, are all of our lives to be valued equally?

When 2 1/2-year-old Ursula falls into an old mine shaft in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, media and curiosity seekers swarm the scene, and not one alone asks about the mixed race child born of poor parents - is she worth saving? How much investment and effort is one such child worth?

Ingrid Hill, in this debut novel, explores the question of one life's value by going back into history, traveling the long and complex limbs of a family tree, to an ancestry of two thousand years and a genealogy that contains within it royalty and peasants, slaves and alchemists, immigrants and miners. Little Ursula's ethnic roots wind through China, Sweden, Finland, Poland, traveling over land and oceans, passing through the courts of royalty with as much intrigue as through the tents and barracks of immigrants, until the two branches of her parents' families, the Wongs and the Makis, finally meet to create this child. In one tiny child: the spans of millenia and the bloodlines of countless generations. Such is the value of one human life, that it contains the lives of many, and these many are intertwined by all who have ever lived, all across the globe, a concentration of all humanity and all the characteristics and traits, good and evil, therein. Every life, we soon see, is a vessel holding all that has been and all that will be.
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