(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Call follows the dedicated life of David Treadup, who leaves rural New York as a young man of twenty-seven and devotes his life to the welfare of the Chinese people. In the background of Treadup’s career are the tumultuous events that have changed Chinese life drastically in the twentieth century, and The Call is thus also an impressionistic history of modern China through the Communist Revolution. John Hersey divides his seven-hundred-page narrative into ten sections, each focusing on an important phase of Treadup’s life. Sketches of Treadup’s pioneer forebears give the story additional historical sweep, as does the account of the futile efforts of Treadup’s oldest son, Philip, to get his father’s ashes buried in Shanghai in 1981.

David Treadup is born in 1878 in Salt Branch, New York, in Onondagan country, and after an erratic beginning, he is graduated from Syracuse University. The call to missionary work comes to him in his last year in college, and in 1905—after courting Emily Kean, who will join him in China a year later as his wife—he arrives in Tientsin as a YMCA missionary under the sponsorship of Syracuse University. Through 1910, Treadup teaches and develops his literati campaign, a program to introduce modern science to China’s educated elite with the expectation that knowledge will then trickle down the cultural scale. His favorite teaching aid is a gyroscope he has had shipped to him, and with its properties he fascinates and charms...

(The entire section is 612 words.)