The Call

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

David Treadup, born in 1878 in Salt Branch, New York, first feels the pull of a religious vocation in his last year at Syracuse University. He signs up as a YMCA missionary and, in 1905, goes to Tientsin, China, where he undertakes a campaign to educate the Chinese elite with new scientific knowledge.

Treadup is busy and successful in his lectures, and, with his wife, Emily, rears three sons. During World War I, he goes to France to oversee Chinese laborers sent to help the Allies, and his experiences there teaching the coolies simple reading and writing skills convince him to switch his educational efforts from the Chinese elite to the illiterate villagers. Upon his return to China, he has considerable success with his new project, but chaos takes over in the late 1930’s under the Japanese occupation.

By 1940, Emily and the three boys are back in the United States, but Treadup stays on and is interned for two years by the Japanese. During this difficult time, Treadup makes a close friend in Dr. Phinneas Cunningham but loses his religious faith.

Treadup finally returns to New York to find Emily unwell, and his last years are marred by disappointments. Emily’s sickness, his inability to form close relationships with his sons, and his sense of his own encroaching enfeeblement contribute to his disillusionment. He returns to China in 1945 to work with the reconstruction movement but is appalled by the corruption he witnesses and is humiliated by the Red Chinese.

THE CALL is an absorbing historical novel as well as the life story of a good man. Hersey himself was born in China, the son of a missionary, and his...

(The entire section is 680 words.)