River of Dust by Virginia Pye – Book Review

River of Dust by Virginia Pye
Published by Unbridled Books

Today I have for you one of my May picks for Bloggers Recommend, River of Dust by Virginia Pye. Here’s what it is about:

On the windswept plains of northwestern China, Mongol bandits swoop down upon an American missionary couple and steal their small child. The Reverend sets out in search of the boy and becomes lost in the rugged, corrupt countryside populated by opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. This upright Midwestern minister develops a following among the Chinese peasants and is christened Ghost Man for what they perceive are his otherworldly powers. Grace, his young ingénue wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband begin to beckon to her from across the plains. The foreign couple’s savvy and dedicated Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, accompany and eventually lead them through dangerous territory to find one another again. With their Christian beliefs sorely tested, their concept of fate expanded, and their physical health rapidly deteriorating, the Reverend and Grace may finally discover an understanding between them that is greater than the vast distance they have come.

Such an intriguing and heartbreaking story! Here’s what I had to say about it in the newsletter:

Virigina Pye’s story of a missionary couple in early-twentieth-century China is as fascinating as it is affecting. Their only child kidnapped by nomads, Grace and the reverend become increasingly less involved in the mission they were assigned to, both drawing into themselves—and, in the reverend’s case, roaming the countryside—to cope with their loss.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Red Thread by Ann Hood – Book Review

The Red Thread by Ann Hood
Published by W.W. Norton & Co

After losing her daughter – and subsequently her marriage – in a tragic accident, Maya Lange moved across the country and began the Red Thread Adoption Agency, helping families adopt baby girls from China. None of Maya’s new friends, clients, or coworkers know about her loss, they simply know she is completely devoted to her job and to bringing families together with the little girls destined to be part of their family. The latest batch of families seeking new additions includes Maya’s good friend, Emily, who is desperate to make her marriage – which is her husband’s second – feel like a family, despite her sullen stepdaughter who wants nothing to do with her.

Instead of focusing solely on Maya, or solely on Maya and Emily, Hood gives roughly equal time to each family contemplating adoption, in addition to writing chapters from Maya’s point of view as she works to help these families bring home babies and works out her own painful personal history at the same time. I was actually somewhat worried when I discovered that so many characters were receiving sections from their own point of view and that each Chinese family whose daughter would find a new home would have their story briefly told as well. Often novels with large ensembles do not work well for me because they frequently seem to sacrifice good character and even plot development for too many points of view, and “The Red Thread” had only 300 pages to tell all of these stories.

My fear was totally unfounded.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how she did it, but Ann Hood managed to evoke in me an intense emotional connection to the story she was telling and to the plights and lives of all of the families involved, even those Chinese families whose stories were given only a few pages. Maya’s story brought me to the point of tears more than once, and books very rarely make me cry (other than a few Harry Potter deaths, which still get me every time). Part it may have been that this is a highly personal story for Hood who also lost a child and went through the adoption process, but I think it is just as much the fact that she is a phenomenal writer whose backlist I now can’t wait to read.

The writing was gorgeous, the plotting was perfect, and the characterization was superb; it was emotionally engaging without being emotionally manipulative. I can very highly recommend this “The Red Thread.”

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

Source: author.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Pearl of China by Anchee Min – Book Review

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Life was not easy for Willow, a young Chinese girl in a small village at the end of the 19th century. Her family had little money, and survived mostly on what she and her father could steal, until her father was taken under the wing of Absalom, the white Christian missionary in the area. As Willow’s father was becoming a leader of the Church under Absalom’s guidance, Willow is beginning a friendship with Absalom’s daughter, Pearl. Having lived in China since she was mere months old, Pearl feels more Chinese than American: hiding her blonde hair under black wool caps and singing traditional Chinese songs.

Willow and Pearl grow older, but they do not grow apart, even when Pearl has to return to the U.S. for college and other life events. Pearl begins to find her worth and her life’s work in writing fiction about China, but fiction that rings true to the experiences of the peasants she has lived among for nearly her entire life. Towards the middle of the 20th century, however, there is a crest in animosity towards foreigners, and Pearl is forced to flee to America. After Mao comes to power, Willow’s life is threatened by her lifelong friendship with the writer who is now being labeled a cultural imperialist.

I was initially slightly disappointed with this book, because in some ways it was more about Pearl’s semi-fictional friend Willow than it was about Pearl S. Buck herself. However, as I read it I became enamored of Pearl’s story set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century China. Although it took some time for me to become fully engrossed in the story, I soon found myself lost in the lives of Willow and Pearl.

What really gave this book a special heart, I think, is Anchee Min’s own back story with Pearl S. Buck. Min was forced to denounce Buck as a youth during the Cultural Revolution. After she came to the United States and became a published author, she was gifted a copy of “The Good Earth” by a reader. Buck’s story touched Min so deeply that the idea for “Pearl of China” was born.

Highly recommended for a look at the history of modern China, as well as of author Pearl S. Buck.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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