Tag Archives: Mennonite missionaries

Book Review: The City of Tranquil Light

14 Dec

Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war. As the couple works to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng– City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love–and face incredible hardship, will their faith and relationship be enough to sustain them?

Told through Will and Katherine’s alternating viewpoints–and inspired by the lives of the author’s maternal grandparents–City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of the shifting face of a beautiful but torn nation. A deeply spiritual book, it shows how those who work to teach others often have the most to learn, and is further evidence that Bo Caldwell writes “vividly and with great historical perspective” (San Jose Mercury News).


Bo Caldwell is the author of the national bestseller The Distant Land of My Father and the novel City of Tranquil Light. Her short fiction has been published inPloughsharesStoryEpoch, and other literary journals. A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, she lives in Northern California with her husband, novelist Ron Hansen.

My Impressions:

The City of Tranquil Light is probably the best book I have read this year, and I have read some pretty good books!  It tells the story of a young Mennonite couple who meet and marry while pursuing the call of God to be missionaries to China in the early 20th century.  Sounds kind of tame doesn’t it?  But what Bo Caldwell has produced is anything but.  Told in the quiet reminiscences of Will and the diary entries of Katherine, the reader discovers a couple who love God fiercely and therefore those to whom they are ministering.

Will and Katherine go to China to share the gospel and provide nursing care to a poor people who are hostile to outsiders and suspicious of anything foreign. They struggle along with the people they are sent to care for — through disease, famine, drought, and floods.  They face hostility from neighbors and danger from bandits.  They face incredible loss that would have been unthinkable in the United States, but never waver in their pursuit of God’s will for their lives.  Yet Will and Katherine are  extraordinary in their ordinariness.  They epitomize the power God can wield when working through His weak, but submissive children. Even when doubt and anger take root, they determine to trust the God who has proven Himself time and again.  This novel really does show what a life lived for Christ looks like.

The writing is simply beautiful.  I don’t think I have ever teared up in the first pages of a novel before.  But the language is so lyrical, that it did indeed move me to tears.  The secondary characters are just as well-crafted as Will and Katherine. They come alive in the pages of this novel.  So my advice to you is go out and get this book!  You will not regret it.

Very Highly Recommended. (The highest you can get from me and never before given to a book.)


(I received The City of Tranquil Light from the publisher.  All opinions expressed are mine alone.)