City of Tranquil Light (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

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City of Tranquil Light
Bo Caldwell, 2010
304 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
July 2011

"When you leave a place you love, you leave a piece of your heart." That Chinese proverb from the book captures how I felt when closing its covers—I'd left a piece of my heart in its pages.

It sounds so cheesy having said that—yet no one was more surprised than I by how this book yanked at my sometimes jaded heart-strings. City of Tranquil Light reminds me of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, another book about the difficulty of faith and the way Christianity should be lived—through service and humility. This book is also about the abiding power of community to see one another through times of hardship and heartache.

The story is based on the author's grandparents, who spent 27 years as Mennonite missionaries. In 1906 Katherine Friesen, at 22, a nurse with two years of training, and Will Kiehn, at 21, an untrained, would-be-preacher, leave all they've known and loved to travel to rural China. They feel called to heal and convert. Through their patience, kindness, faith, and hard work, the two eventually succeed. Katherine becomes a much loved healer treating the rural poor, and Will a preacher who builds a congregation of the faithful.

Their struggles would bring most of us to our knees...in exhaustion as well as prayer. The two endure bandits and warlords, famine and drought, civil war, and earthquakes. Yet the deep friendships they make compensate them greatly. As Will says to a large gathering who have come to pay tribute, "we came to serve you and to teach you of our faith, but it is we who have been cared for and taught."

Tranquil Light is simply told and easily read—an action-oriented plot balanced with quiet, meditative reflection. It is a lovely book.

See our Reading Guide for City of Tranquil Light.

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