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Ursula Under

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  1,246 Ratings  ·  242 Reviews
A dangerous rescue attempt in Michigan has captured the attention of the entire country. A two-year-old girl has fallen down a mine shaft. Ursula Wong is the only child of a poor family and referred to by one member of the TV audience as 'half-breed trailer trash', not worth all the expense.

But Ursula is the last of her family line and her story explodes into a gorgeous sa
Paperback, 496 pages
Published January 5th 2006 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Oct 28, 2007 Zinta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I have for some time now been reading books to illuminate the meaning of life, here was a break to turn that coin on its other side and ask of its value. To ponder meaning, after all, assumes life has value. And if it does, are all of our lives to be valued equally?

When 2 1/2-year-old Ursula falls into an old mine shaft in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, media and curiosity seekers swarm the scene, and not one alone asks about the mixed race child born of poor parents - is she worth saving?
Diana Higgins
Jul 28, 2008 Diana Higgins rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I just could not read this book. I liked the beginning, even though the overwritten phrases continually distracted me from the story, but then when the story changed to that of the Chinese alchemist I almost gave up right then.

I did stick with it through that part. Let me just say that I LOVE the premise of this book, that each life is beautiful and valuable, that each one of us is only here because of the interesting and unique ancestors that came before us. It was just the writing! The Chinese
Jul 04, 2007 Ami rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is such a great, great read. I tried to convince everyone to pick it up for summer a couple years ago, but people kept not finishing it. I believe that the third chapter, set in ancient China, is the sticking point. Everyone thought the rest of the novel was going to be as dry and inexplicable as that one. But it's not, at all.
Jul 10, 2007 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love stories that weave together
I was on the fence about giving this book a 4 or 5 star review. I'll give it a 5 star recommendation, because I think it is very worth the read and might likely be someone's favorite book of all time if they give it a try after seeing a nice high recommendation. I think most people would give it four or five stars.

It is the story of a two and a half year old who falls down a well. But, as the book says, what you see of an iceberg is only what is above the surface and the iceberg is formed by the
Oct 05, 2007 Lauri rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction_modern
I really liked the architecture of the book and the writing style was nice. I mean, the way that Ursula and her ancient ancestors' stories were woven together was unique and original. But, the author failed to get me to care enough about the characters to lose myself in the book. I just didn't really care about what happened to any of them, which is sad, because there were some interesting characters there.
This was such a good idea. I love collections of short stories masquerading as novels! There is one contemporary story interspersed with historical stories, each one featuring different ancestors in Ursula's family tree. The premise is wonderful, and is handled really well too. I don't know what order it was written in (it unfolds more or less chronologically) but the writing actually seems to improve over the course of the book. Either that or her style - full of interruptions like this one - g ...more
Jun 04, 2015 Sheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't written a review on Goodreads in a long time, but this book warrants it. This is a behemoth of a book. . . okay, not really. It's 476 pages. But it's so very intricately woven with random threads going off this way and that, it takes a great deal of energy to stay focused while reading it. It doesn't move quickly and is definitely not plot-driven.

However, this is a beautiful novel, if a bit too wordy at times. I got bogged down in ancient China and nearly gave up. I'm glad I didn't.

Aug 07, 2009 Marvin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: midwest
Hill, who lives in Iowa City, has been in several church school classes with me (including the one I taught) and contributed good insights. The book has some beautifully written passages & scenes that don't hold together all that well & is undermined by some overwiting, some repetition of themes, & a lot of (literally) incredible coincidences. The story centers around a little girl (& her family) who falls down an abandoned mine shaft in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. From beginning ...more
Jul 20, 2007 Elisascalise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointed. Had I not been encouraged to persist with this book, I admit I would have put it down after the first couple of pages. But then it grabbed me by the pulomonary and I have been disappointed every time I have had to put it down.

This book feeds my penchant for misplaced nostalgia through a series of characters who are connected by blood and really nothing else. Each chapter is devoted to one person in the blood line of a little girl, who has fallen down an unused mining shaft. Each ch
Apr 12, 2015 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The overall theme of this book captured my nostalgic side. I loved the idea that all of us are only here because our ancestors somehow made it possible by their meeting of each other, and were then able to produce at least one child to carry on the family line, so from that perspective the book really made me appreciate the struggle of my own ancestors. I also enjoyed most of the characters from Ursula's bloodline, some of which had beautiful love stories attached which I'm a sucker for. I did o ...more
Sep 07, 2008 Meliza rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I'm going to make it through this one. It is a great premise, telling the stories of generations of inter-connected lives that lead to one particular family and a little girl who falls down a mine shaft. But in the execution, I found it difficult to keep caring about the main plot while being constantly led in other (more interesting) directions. Also the prose was quite painful at times, over-written to the point that I found myself skimming to get to the relevant sections.

Jennifer Doyle
Jan 19, 2016 Jennifer Doyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mmd
So, so good! This is the story of Ursula, a little girl who falls down an abandoned mine shaft. From ancient China, Finland, across oceans, in missions and shacks, this story examines her rich history and lineage that allows her to even exist. I loved the complexity and layers to the story of Ursula's life, imagining what a miracle that any of us exist. I will admit that the first story of the Chinese alchemist was the hardest to get through as other reviews have mentioned, but it was still an e ...more
I appreciated all her research and liked learning about quirkly little facts (who knew there was a lepers colony in Sweden? Not me). I made it a 3 primarily for the reseach/information in it. There were portions that were mind-numbing. Beth was right though--some of the comments and references were bizarre (the anal sphincter comment in particular) and out of place. It was like she learned a new word or heard a new song and just had to include it.
Jan 27, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-bingo-2015
Katherine wins, this was excellent. Though I have to say: it did not click for me until at least 1/4 of the way in, but after that, I was hooked. Just thinking about the thousands of stories that came before you were born is both overwhelming and exhilarating. This would make an excellent book club selection!
Nov 24, 2016 Starry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Enjoyed this book. A nice set of stories going back in history. All the stories are about ancestors, relatives, and contemporaries of a toddler girl awaiting rescue from an abandoned mine shaft in northern MI. My only criticism might be that the "bad guy" lady is too cartoonishly bad.
May 15, 2013 Hector rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece--seriously, one of the best American novels written in the last twenty years. Give copies to everyone you know. They will thank you. I can't recommend this outstanding book enough, and I can't think of anyone who wouldn't enjoy it.
Nov 28, 2016 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
This was such a slow slog for me. The writing is excellent and the story is unique. I think the novel is unusual but interesting. It tells the tall of Ursula, a small girl who has fallen down a mine shift in present day. The story alternates with stories of her various ancestors through the years. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read it. At times I had to talk myself into continuing. I'm glad I did.
Nov 10, 2016 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This book was like many books woven into one. It was engrossing and swept me away into all the ancestors' stories.
Lorien Owens
Could not get into this book. I tried so hard. A long, slow slog that I wanted to love but couldn't.
Stephen Gallup
Jun 25, 2008 Stephen Gallup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One summer day in 2003, a little girl on an outing with her parents tumbles down an abandoned mine shaft in the backwoods of northern Michigan. Justin and Annie, who’d been only steps away, enter panic mode. The rest of the world gradually begins responding in the ways it always does when such things occur, mobilizing rescue workers and eager media people, and, far back on the periphery, emitting unsympathetic commentary about the expenditure of so much fuss over mere “halfbreed trailer trash.”

Beth Cato
Ursula,Under is an odd yet beautifully written book. It begins by introducing little Ursula, age two. Her mother, who was crippled in a hit-and-run accident as a young girl, wasn't supposed to be able to have children. Her father, of mixed Chinese descent, adores his little girl and vows to do a better job than his own father, who abandoned his family when he was a toddler. Then, on a visit to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, the unthinkable happens - Ursula, laughing and happy, runs across a field ...more
Nov 27, 2008 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I never totally warmed up to this book. The story is about a young couple with a small child (supposedly age 2 but that is unrealistic - I would say more like 3 or 4)who live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On a picnic the child, Ursula, falls down an abandoned mine shaft. During the next approximately 24 hours we see the rescue effort (in more detail that I wanted at times), the parents (excellent portrayal of how parents deal with this tragedy), and also - for the majority of the book - th ...more
Girl with her Head in a Book
I read and loved Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (I will try and review that at some point) and since then Niffenegger seems to have carved herself a bit of a career as a commenter on the covers of other people's books and whenever she does so, I now automatically buy it as any one that she has ever recommended has always been absolutely fantastic. The best of them all though is Ursula, Under - I majorly fell in love with this book. I read in my first year at university while I was ...more
May 24, 2010 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, fiction
This was a fantastic book! This multi-generational tale of the Wong family spans centuries, circling back to a present-day crisis. Two and a half year old Ursula Wong has fallen down an abandon mineshaft. As rescue efforts take place, the story flashes back to her ancestors. From a Chinese alchemist two thousand years ago on her father’s side to a Finnish immigrant at the beginning of the twentieth century on her mother’s side, the novel spans history and geography. The chapters alternate from t ...more
Nov 13, 2007 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I almost stopped reading this book in the first chapter because it was about a Chinese alchemist.... sometimes there are just situations and settings that honestly I could care less about spending time in, even via a book. Chinese alchemy is one of those things for me (along with the South...I am sure I have some more prejudices that I am not aware of yet to add to the list!)

The conceit of the book's structure is that chance encounters and connections exist throughout a little girl's genealogy i
I got to page 288 of 476. I think the number of books I never plan on finishing is less than 5. This book should have been and excellent fit for me, being a genealogist and all. Unfortunately it was too crass and gritty for me. Language makes a huge difference, and I just don't do cursing or taking the Lord's name in vain. I don't need to read about sex or any of its variations. I thought I could ignore it because I was so intrigued by the form of the story, but I couldn't. It makes me sad that ...more
Apr 23, 2008 Jody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hill's enchanting debut novel spans more than 2,000 years and is brimming with an engaging cast of characters. Annie and Justin Wong, who live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, are on a day trip exploring the area where Annie's Finnish great-grandfather died in a mine collapse in 1926. Suddenly their only child, Ursula, disappears down an abandoned shaft, setting off a monumental rescue attempt and accompanying media frenzy. The author leaves that predictable plot behind, focusing instead on the yo ...more
Dec 22, 2009 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The concept - of ancestry, fate and random chance - is fascinating and kept me reading past the point where I would have given up with most books. I loved the vast diversity of the histories of the characters: the author impressed me with her ability to sketch out the lives of these ancestors and leave me sympathetic with all of their faults and feelings. Sometimes the progression became very formulaic - the phrase "this detail from the present is identical/comes from this detail in the past but ...more
Dec 07, 2008 Alyson rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is not one explored by many authors: All the factors that go into making us who we are--that ensure we exist at all. Truly fascinating subject matter, and the cast of characters is indeed wide (as the novel spans more than 2,000 years of little two-year-old Ursula's family members' lives) and varied. I'd love to give it more than two stars, though my problem lies in how forgettable the characters all are and, thus, how forgettable the book ultimately is.

I typically cheri
Laurel Deloria
Feb 01, 2016 Laurel Deloria rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
A great study in genelogy and that we are all related within 6 degrees of kinship.
One of the most widely praised and rapturously entertaining first novels in recent years begins with a little girl falling down an abandoned mineshaft in Michigan 19s Upper Peninsula. Her name is Ursula Wong, she 19s part Chinese, part Finnish, only two years old, and soon the dangerous effort to rescue her has an entire country glued to the TV. As it follows that effort, Ursula, Under re-creates the chain of ances
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