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Heaven Lake

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  692 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
Winner of the 2004 Barnes and Noble Discover Award. Heaven Lake is about many things: China, God, passion, friendship, travel, even the reckless smuggling of hashish. But above all, this extraordinary debut is about the mysteries of love.

Vincent Saunders has graduated from college, left his small hometown in Illinois, and arrived in Taiwan as a Christian volunteer. After
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 8th 2005 by Scribner (first published March 16th 2004)
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Jun 25, 2011 Jane rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Bobbi who recommended this book to me, lent it to me, and waited patiently before asking for it back, at which point I finally read it! I can see, Bobbi, why you said that you still cannot get the story out of your mind. The novel combines a virtual trip to China with a fascinating look at a young man's coming of age. The trip to China begins in Taiwan, where Vincent, a Presbyterian mission worker, falls prey to the charms of a predatory Chinese student. For the rest of the novel, as ...more
Shelley Rossi
Apr 09, 2008 Shelley Rossi rated it really liked it
My hubby recommended this to me quite some time ago and I finally just got around to reading it while on vacation in Hawaii. He was right; it's a great read. It's almost like a combination of travel journal and soap opera. At first, I thought the book was going to be a boring account of a righteous American on a mission to convert the Chinese to christianity, but in the end it was a fascinating account of the main character's life abroad, Chinese culture, and the need to question conventional ...more
Jan 20, 2009 Sophie rated it it was amazing
I friend of mine recommended this book because I am traveling to China, and enjoy novels that transport the reader to a new and different culture. I really loved this book. It's a finely crafted, beautifully written coming of age story about a young post-college American missionary who learns the very hard way that he's on the wrong path for himself. It's only party about faith - it's also part romance, part adventure novel, but mostly a story about youthful mistakes in an effort to find ...more
Ron Charles
Jan 02, 2014 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Americans didn't invent youthful naiveté, of course, but they patented it quickly. The recipe is built right into the country's founding myths, and our canon is dominated by stories of young men striding into the world, only to find it a more complicated and compromising place than they'd anticipated.

John Dalton's thoughtful debut novel, "Heaven Lake," is a worthy descendent of that tradition. His pious young hero, Vincent Saunders, heads off to Taiwan in 1989 to convert the Asian peasants livin
Nov 06, 2008 Stacie rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, asian-lit
John Dalton’s first novel places the reader with a young missionary in modern day Taiwan. Vincent traveled halfway around the world from the Midwest to Taiwan to teach English and spread the word of God. But his goal is harshly detoured when he indulges in a sexual affair with one of his teenage students. The affair forces him to take an offer from a wealthy businessman to go to Mainland China to retrieve the man’s future wife. What unfolds is a travel adventure into the depths of a curious ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it
Thank you Bobbi and Jane for recommending this novel! I had many different emotions while reading it. At first I didn't know if I was going to make it through because I didn't really like Vincent. But as I stuck with it, he grew on me, because of the changes in him; by the end of the story I thought he was great and caring and a wonderful friend, etc. The descriptions of his travels through Mainland China were spectacular. I felt like I was right there on those terrible train and bus rides with ...more
Feb 24, 2009 Ellyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2005
A novel that tells the story of Vincent, a recent college graduate who travels to Taiwan to be a Christian volunteer and English teacher. Initally Vincent is a little bit self-righteous (and annoying!), but before long, everything that he understands about himself and the world changes as he forms a complicated relationship with a high school girl whom he teaches. Forced to leave Taiwan in scandal, Vincent accepts an offer from a local businessman who wishes to marry a woman living in the desert ...more
Mar 29, 2013 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
There was no character growth or spiritual development in the main characters--so what was the point of the book? To show that Christians sin like everyone else? To show that mission work is done by flawed people? Fine, We know that. However, I do not want to hear ("see" in the case of the written word) the foul language, the detailed descriptions of lovemaking, assists in the purcahse of women for prositition or, perhaps worst of all, the flippant attitude to all things Christian or missionwork ...more
Lake Oz Fic Chick
Heaven Lake tells the story of an unworldly American missionary who arrives in Taiwan to teach English and Bible-study classes, only to find himself publicly shamed and on an improbable journey across Mainland China to marry a woman he has never met. This novel, Dalton’s first, was chosen by the Chicago Tribune, Pages Magazine, Publishers Weekly, and as one of the Best Books of 2004. It was also given First Place for Fiction in the Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” ...more
Jeffrey May
Aug 06, 2016 Jeffrey May rated it it was amazing
Heavenly Writing

I read “Heaven Lake” at least ten years ago and was recently puzzled to find that I hadn’t left a review. What’s not so surprising however is that the novel has remained on my bookshelf and I knew exactly where to find it. Prized possessions are like that. After revisiting the first paragraph, I can see why I kept it. Few novels rate a second read and fewer still a third. “Heaven Lake” easily deserves a second read. Dalton’s writing appears to hold up well over time.

“Heaven Lake”
Bryan Schmidt
Oct 24, 2010 Bryan Schmidt rated it liked it
Although the book has its moments, I was disappointed with its inaccuracies. It definitely captures the Asian culture in which it is set. The characters and world are quite vivid. It's obvious the author has experienced the culture and done his research. But the main character is represented as a fairly conservative missionary type, and his transformation from saint to sinner seems very cliché. It's perhaps the view a Liberal would take of a conservative Christian -- always questioning the ...more
Karen Germain
Dec 11, 2007 Karen Germain rated it liked it
This book unfolded in an unexpected way. I don't mean that it was particularly shocking or surprising, more that it was a different book than I expected it to be, in a good way.

The book is about a young Christian who tried to head a ministry in Taiwan during the early 1990s. He arrives in a foreign country with all of the best intentions, but soon realizes his own naivete. The book is about his own transformation and faith, which is influenced by the people that he meets and a series of events
Ellen Young
Dec 07, 2009 Ellen Young rated it it was amazing
What a sublime book. A young and earnest "Jesus teacher" from small town Illinois comes to Taiwan to gain converts for the church. Exceedingly lonely even with the Bible to comfort him, he gets involved with a precocious teenage girl, unable to resist taking her to bed, after which he's beaten by her brother and disgraced in the eyes of the town. So he leaves for mainland China to marry by proxy a beautiful woman in the far north and bring her back across the border to marry, for real, a wealthy ...more
May 24, 2016 Kate added it
Shelves: fiction
A few pages into this book, I was so happy it was long. What a great feeling to know you're diving into a long reading journey, gripped by the voice and circumstances.

This book is a coming-of-age saga, a travelogue, and a redemption. At times it's quite bleak--which makes the ending even better.

What's best about it, though, is the writing style. I love the way John Dalton turns a phrase over in his hand like a jewel that catches the light.
David Wen
Dec 29, 2014 David Wen rated it really liked it
Excellent story with a few plot twists and vivid imagery of the locales the book takes you through. Initially I thought it was a "Christian" story but was ultimately pleasantly surprised. As the story develops, what you think is inevitable never happens and the events keep you hooked throughout the process. Recommeneded
Apr 16, 2009 Pygmy rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 23, 2016 Renee added it
A man's exploration of his faith. The language and insights were great. Lot's of good plot twists with a satisfying end.
Mar 26, 2015 Sheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, most original!

I read this all day & into the very late hours, or very early morn. Dare I employ the cliche "Couldn't put it down"?
That said, I was leery at the start, having read no previews of the book, it was on my shared Kindle with my Sis. We both are keen on anything regarding China, or Asian countries & thus Heaven Lake was her fast pick from a large monthly menu simply for the cover.
Here's why I was uncertain about it, & don't wish to offend anyone, but may in f
Such a well-written book, so smooth it is nearly seamless, reads like real life all the way, beautiful!
Vincent, a young man from Red Bud Illinois, joins an overseas Christian missionary organization and sets up a ministry house in Taiwan. He is full of righteous conviction and zealous energy. He sets up a ministry house and starts giving classes in both English and Bible studies. He is hired as a teacher both privately and by a couple of schools. The trouble starts with overtures made by a teena
Sep 11, 2016 Petr rated it liked it
Fascinating to read a book that describes a travel to China is it might have happened at the end of 80s or beginning of 90s and see how much the country has changed since then.

Unfortunately as for the book, it's the only point positive point. The story revolves around the psychological development and moral choices of the main character, but fails at capturing any of these. Descriptions of characters are shallow and schematic, the story itself is predictable and doesn't provide any profound idea
Jul 30, 2014 Kerry rated it really liked it
I picked up ‘Heaven Lake’, thinking that it would be a piece of light-hearted chick-lit about a couple in Taiwan. How wrong I turned out to be – I don’t really know how to categorise this book at all!

By all accounts, it was a very realistic – and sometimes dark – depiction of one man’s life as an expat in Taiwan. Centred around a Christian volunteer named Vincent, ‘Heaven Lake’ tells the story of this young man’s arrival in Taiwan with the intention of setting up a ministry house, and his journ
Oct 30, 2012 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story of a young American missionary who arrives in a small city in Taiwan in 1990, falls into some unsavory liaisons, and is talked into a sham marriage with a woman in northwestern China, along the way, of course, losing his innocence but not his sense of wonder. The middle third of the novel is worth the price alone--a journey by train and bus across the mountains, plains and deserts of China. You could read it purely for the evocative, rich descriptions of landscapes and people, but it's ...more
Apr 22, 2008 Sara rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
I'm uncertain about this one. On the one hand, there's sumptuous description in the book, and the setting is China, so the description is necessary to a Westerner. For example, there's a passage in which the narrator describes the smell of a village as a mixture of human excrement and cooking spices... and that's pretty vivid. However, there's something slightly caricatureish about the characters. All but two of them - and they're incidental characters - are Tired or Bored or Happy or Stupid ...more
Feb 18, 2010 Linda rated it really liked it
Vincent, a recent college graduate, goes to Taiwan as a Presbyterian missionary. He opens a ministry house, where he teaches English and Bible study classes. Soon he meets wealthy Mr. Gwa, who wishes to marry the beautiful Kai-ling, who lives in the northwestern part of mainland China. Because of immigration and visa problems, Mr. Gwa can’t go to the main land himself; he proposes to pay Vincent a large sum of money to go to Kai-ling’s home, marry her, and bring her back to Taiwan for Mr. Gwa ...more
Sep 09, 2011 Shanon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Someone gave me this book and I can't remember who, but it was in my pile to read. It was very different. It was about a missionary who went to Taiwan and ended up getting a life lesson in humility. At first I did not like his character at all. I thought he was very shallow and selfish and wondered how I was going to get through the book. But then he had a life lesson and changed and was much more likeable.

He at first refused a request to go to China to marry a girl there in a businessman's pla
Jacque Sherbak
May 18, 2011 Jacque Sherbak rated it it was amazing
I love writers who use their words to create worlds and emotions so transformatively that it elicits a visceral reaction in me. John Dalton succeeds in his debut novel Heaven Lake. If you have ever traveled to the farthest ends of the earth or another culture, this young naive missionary's story will take you back through every nuance of that journey. If you have ever experienced grieving your own language along with the loneliness of culture shock while being a visual oddity in that culture, ...more
Laura Aguirre
May 08, 2016 Laura Aguirre rated it really liked it
Books which detail a journey are one my favorite because it inspires me to travel or make me feel as if I was traveling. The sights which Vincent visits are so uncommonly mentioned and so well described that it leaves one intrigued. Dalton is also great at creating a personality for its characters since I could really well imagine a lot of the subjects existing in real life. Alec in particular reminded me of an ex who was an avid traveler and had the same demeanor. And Gloria seemed to fit so ...more
Dick Gullickson
Jan 02, 2011 Dick Gullickson rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Bobbi and Janie for recommending this. A fascinating story of Vincent, a Presbyterian missionary, who travels to Taiwan to teach bible study and English. After having an affair with one of his high school students he ventures to the mainland to be a surrogate husband and bring back the bride of his wealthy acquaintance, Mr. Gwa, who can’t travel to the mainland. The interesting part is observing Vincent’s fall from grace after his affair and how he compensates for it. He muddles ...more
Feb 22, 2016 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Quiet, Lyrical Novel

After a slow beginning, the novel took hold of me. The protagonist is everyman, struggling with his spirituality and carnality. At first, as a devout Christian, he sees the two as mutually exclusive. But as his experiences gradually mature him, and love enters the picture, he emerges, a little careworn, but with a burgeoning understanding that G!d exists in the smallest details of everyday life. He learns that he doesn't have to separate himself from having a normal life to
Patrick Sauers
May 24, 2012 Patrick Sauers rated it really liked it
I read this in detox [don't ask why]

I read it cover to cover it took about about 9 hours. I have to say the pacing of the book is extremely captivating because you feel like a confused traveler much like the protagonist Vincent who sort of loses his purpose to be a christian volunteer in Taiwan after having sex with a student. Set in late 1980's early 1990's a time of change in China and Taiwan.
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John Dalton is the author of the novel, Heaven Lake, winner of the Barnes and Noble 2004 Discover Award in fiction and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a member of the English faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he teaches in their MFA Writing Program. John lives with his wife and ...more
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