This historical fiction piece is set in Northwestern China circa 1910. The unimaginable and horrific happens to an American missionary couple; Mongolian bandits rip their toddler from his mother’s arms kidnapping him and riding off into the dust. The storytelling explores the change this has brought about on the parents; can they continue on in this foreign land as missionaries and find the son they so dearly miss?
The historical significance explored in this novel centers around the site of the Boxer Rebellion; which took place from 1899-1901. The Boxer Rebellion was a violent anti-foreigner uprising that came during a time of desperation by the locals. The short version of history boils down to domestic unrest during a time of many foreign influences causing the I-ho ch’üan (Righteous and Harmonious Fist), secret society, to desire to rid China of foreigners. They viewed the foreigners as being responsible for destroying their culture. When June 1900 rolled around the Empress Dowager ordered foreigners to be killed. As a result a number of missionary families were killed before the international troops could arrive and quell the rebellion.
The Reverend, the young kidnapped boy’s father, sets out across the dusty landscape in search of his stolen boy. His journey through the Northwestern China opens doors to various cultures along the way. These cultures all have different beliefs and daily life rituals and stretch from the underworld of opium dens and their warlords to the everyday farmers (peasants) working to put food on the table for their loved ones. The area is steeped in cultural beliefs different from the beliefs a Christian missionary was brought up with. His young wife, Grace, is forced to allow this search to proceed without her as she is precariously carrying another child. The Reverend takes to the road for months on end and is unaware of the changes happening at home with his church, his young wife and the level of famine, sickness and desperation among the community. Two Chinese servants guide the couple through the unknown, Ahcho for The Reverend and Mai Lin for Grace. Ahcho and Mai Lin take great risk in their quest to keep these two American missionaries safe as they live and traverse this dangerous countryside.
Prepare to be drawn into the story and not want to stop reading as you follow The Reverend and Grace on their own spiritual journeys to understand their beliefs and understanding of the world at hand. This was one of my Top Ten picks for 2013.
[Notice: Original posting 2014-01-01 at Plethora of Books Blog: http://bookchallenges.weebly.com]
Tags: Historical Fiction, Top Ten by Year, 2013