(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Blue Mountains of China is the sweeping saga of two generations of Mennonite families and their attempt to find a homeland where they can express the radical faith to which they have pledged their lives. As Canadian author Rudy Wiebe moves this narrative from the early twentieth century to the novel’s present, he documents the trials and struggles, as well as the spiritual victories and joys, that followed the Mennonite community which escaped from Russia and migrated to the rugged landscapes of Western Canada and South America in the century between the 1870’s and the 1970’s.

The Blue Mountains of China contains no conventional plot. Each chapter is a somewhat self-contained episode in which various individual narrators each provide an idiosyncratic account of the events, relationships, and inner thoughts that illuminate his or her life. Wiebe’s use of multiple narrators and his abrupt changes in setting and era achieve a literary montage which helps the reader to share the feelings of movement, displacement, and disorientation that his characters are themselves experiencing.

The novel’s thirteen chapters, each with its own heading, alternately follow episodes in the lives of Jakob Friesen, David Epp, and the Reimers. Interspersed among these discrete narratives are Frieda Friesen’s journal entries, which provide essential historical information about the Friesen family while progressively tying together...

(The entire section is 536 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In The Blue Mountains of China, Wiebe offers a sweeping, panoramic view of Mennonites as they moved from Russia to Paraguay to China to Canada between the 1920’s and the 1960’s. A deliberately disjointed narrative tells the story of families who face the terrors of persecution and death, who exhibit acts of cowardice and courage, who confront the temptations of success and unbelief.

Central to this saga is the voice of Frieda Friesen, who at age eighty-four tells of the past. The past includes the hardships of poverty, marriage, the birth and death of many children, migration from Canada to Paraguay, plagues, epidemics, and wars. It is the quiet voice of faith, rock-steady even through intense turmoil and severe trials. Frieda’s voice is interspersed with other voices. (In fact, a different point of view informs each chapter, a considerable challenge even to the serious reader.) The voices include that of Jakob Friesen, a cousin of Frieda who speaks not of faith but of unbelief. Jakob Friesen, who tried to live for self, betrayed his son, was sentenced to ten years in Siberia, and when he was released found he had lost his family as well as his faith in the goodness of God.

There is also the story of David Epp, who, inspired by the moral courage and rectitude of his parents, leads a group of Mennonites to safety across the border to China. Then he returns to their Russian village to take the punishment upon himself. This...

(The entire section is 474 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bilan, R. P. “Wiebe and Religious Struggle,” in Canadian Literature. LXXVII (Summer, 1978), pp. 50-63.

Ferris, Ina. “Religious Vision and Fictional Form: Rudy Wiebe’s The Blue Mountains of China,” in Mosaic: A Journal for the Study of Literature and Ideas. XI (Spring, 1978), pp. 79-85.

Mansbridge, Francis. “Wiebe’s Sense of Community,” in Canadian Literature. LXXVII (Summer, 1978), pp. 42-49.

Morley, Patricia. The Comedians: Hugh Hood and Rudy Wiebe, 1976.

Tiessen, Hildegard E. “A Mighty Inner River: ‘Peace’ in the Fiction of Rudy Wiebe,” in The Canadian Forum. II (Fall, 1973), pp. 71-76.