City of Tranquil Light is a beautiful novel that tells the story of a missionary couple in China in a very respectful, loving way. These missionaries are not crazy men and women with hero complexes (think The Poisonwood Bible), but rather ordinary people who want to serve God, and find that China is the place they are sent to do just that.
Will is a young man in 1906 when he meets Edward, who is home from the mission field and looking for workers. He asks Will to consider joining him. Will has not felt the urge to leave home, and doesn't feel particularly gifted for missions work, yet one night, Will gets up, unable to sleep, leaves his bedroom, and sits down at the kitchen table.
As I sat there, I suddenly knew I would go to China. The realization was as simple and definite as the plunk of a small stone in the deep well of my soul, and despite the fact that it would mean leaving what I loved most in the world, I felt not the sadness and dread I had expected but a sense of freedom and release. The tightness in me loosened like a cut cord, and I was joyful.Will narrates the story of his life in China: his meeting with Katherine, Edward's sister-in-law who also joins him, their courtship and marriage while on the mission field, the trials and hardships of their life together.
Katherine tells the story too, in the form of journal entries. It's a nice device, to present two voices in different ways.
Another of my complaints about current fiction is the bleakness of it. There is so much dysfunction and ugliness in novels. This is the rare book that that has ugliness in it, but it's not overwhelmed by it. There is disease and death, attacks by bandits, war. It's sad in parts, but not bleak. It's beautiful and satisfying.
There are a couple of episodes that seem a little fantastical or contrived, but they were minor brow-wrinklers for me, in this otherwise lovely book.
This work of fiction is based on the lives of the author's grandparents. Bo Caldwell also wrote The Distant Land of My Father, another book which I loved. That book was published in 2002; City of Tranquil Light in 2010. At this rate, I have a long wait for her next book. I hope it won't be too long.