Bo Caldwell is a former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University. Her first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was a national bestseller, and she has had short fiction published in numerous literary journals. City of Tranquil Light was published in 2010 and is based on the lives of her maternal grandparents, who worked as Mennonite and Nazarene missionaries to China for more than fifty years.
City of Tranquil Light
An eighty-one-year-old man named Will Kiehn sits in a retirement home for missionaries, recalling excerpts from his wife’s journal and thinking about their service together in a place he still loves: China.
He remembers growing up as a Mennonite farm boy in Oklahoma, loving the land and the life of a farmer. He feels called by God into His service. When Edward, a missionary and family friend from China, speaks at their church and sits at their table, Will knows he is called to go to China.
It is 1906, and Will is twenty-one years old. He is on a boat headed for China, along with Edward and several others (including a young woman named Katherine, who is a deaconess trained in nursing). During the thirty-one miserable days at sea, Katherine is quite sick. She is Edward’s sister-in-law; Edward explains to Will that she has always suffered physical affliction for which doctors have found no cause. She believes, however, that as she serves God, He will give her the strength she needs to accomplish the work. Will spends six hours a day learning to speak and write Mandarin. Once they arrive in China and change into native garb, the small group spends several weeks on a houseboat as they make their way inland via canals and waterways. None of the young boatmen can swim; when one of them falls into the canal, Will saves him. According to Chinese tradition, this means the boatman now belongs to Will. Edward translates Will’s desire to give the young boatman back to his father. Katherine is able to sew a gash on the boy’s ankle; the others are impressed with her handiwork and spend hours each night allowing her to tend to them as well. Although she gets visibly tired, she feels useful and content.
Their journey continues on land. Although the land is flat, the roads are crude and the ride is jarring. Half of the group stays with another Mennonite missionary couple, and Edward, Katherine, and Will continue traveling to...
(The entire section is 4012 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of City of Tranquil Light Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!