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The Distant Land of My Father

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  3,711 Ratings  ·  520 Reviews

For Anna, the narrator of Bo Caldwell's richly lyrical and vivid first novel, growing up in the magical world of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s creates a special bond between her and her father. He is the son of missionaries, a smuggler, and a millionaire who leads a charmed but secretive life. When the family flees to Los Angeles in the face of the Japanese occupation, h

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Published September 1st 2001 by Chronicle Books LLC (first published 2001)
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Jan 29, 2008 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Update: This book is on sale for $1.99 on Kindle today!
Its one of the BEST BEST Historical fiction books 'ever'!!!!!!!!!!!!! It won 'book-of-the-year' in Los Angeles and San Jose -was an international best seller. --
I HIGHLY recommend it! Its still one of my favorite books of all times.

Read about Shanghai in ways you almost never find in other books!
The author-Bo Caldwell -- got her inspiration from this story from her 'grandfather' --(not her father). She lives here in the Bay Area. The most
Feb 06, 2009 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book. It will appeal to those who enjoy books about family relationships, it will appeal to those who enjoy learning about historical events in foreign lands and finally it will appeal to those who enjoy historical biographies. This is a book of historical fiction. It is not based on real lives, but the writing feels so genuine that you believe the characters really did exist. The maternal grandparents of the author where Christian missionaries in China. The author knows ...more
Nov 10, 2007 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am such a sucker for historical fiction, and this book was a wonderful example of GOOD historical fiction. She really did her research, and I felt like I learned a good deal about those times in China and the U.S. 2 things I loved about this book: One, her descriptive writing was incredibly tangible, and so tactile. The way Anna viewed her father through rose-colored glasses-the descriptions by her of his hands, his smell, his hair, his was just so endearing, and I could actually ex ...more
Cathy Sargent
Oct 24, 2015 Cathy Sargent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bo Caldwell's fictional memoir "The Distant Land Of My Father" resonates with the story of my great grandmother Anna. The main character also Anna, the place also Shanghai China, the place also Los Angeles and the date also 1936. My great grandmother Anna Dennis also taught at the Church of The Open Door where the distant father of Caldwell's novel got saved.

After a journey of nearly a month by freighter and delivered from a terrific storm enroute, Mrs Anna L. Dennis and Alma Bertschin reached
Mar 09, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This story is so rich and textured I knew it had to be a labor of love. I was riveted to it in every spare moment for two days so I didn't take the time to check out the author. After I finished, in a quick internet search I found that Joseph Schoene is loosely based on the author's uncle. Her grandparents were missionaries in her mother's brother loved Shanghai. The book was too intimate and personal to have been a glimpse of her own father, but intimate and personal enough to be based on someo ...more
Apr 02, 2010 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, other-asia
This was pretty much a perfect book. I loved this book. The one and only flaw I can see is that at one point Anna spreads tuna fish onto raisin bread (ew). Other than that tiny detail, everything about this book was great. I loved the characters and the places. The story was wonderful and believeable. I felt like I could see Shanghai and California and each and every person in the story. I wish I could give this six stars, one of the best books I think I've ever read.
May 30, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The love of place. The love of family. Sometimes you have to pick. Sometimes they become so intertwined that the choice doesn't matter and the love becomes stronger after the place and people fade.

Feeding a fascination of Shanghai, my friend Elyse recommended this book. Though coming in at just under 400 pages, it took me a few days to finish the book because I savored every word of this beautifully crafted novel. If I could time travel, I would visit Shanghai before the Japanese invaded. This b
Feb 19, 2009 Annie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book so much. Very interesting, dynamic characters and a poignant storyline that tears at the heart strings. (I tend to love that type of story.) It's a great fictional memoir and gives an interesting look at Shanghai during some of its historically difficult moments. So worth the read.
Oct 09, 2012 Vicki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew the minute i finished the first page that i was going to love this book. What a great setting 1930's free-wheeling Shanghai was to place this story of father-daughter love and the effects that missed chances and poor judgement can have on a family. This story frankly broke my heart, but did bring home the fact that children rarely know the real stories of their parents lives.
May 01, 2012 Dianne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book. We begin in Shanghai in about 1930, where Anna, 5 years old, lives with her parents. Father Joseph, the son of missionaries, was born in China and has become a millionaire in the go-go rough and tumble of 30's Shanghai. Eve, the mother, is a beautiful, charming Southern California transplant, who seems to have fit in to the high society and privilege of her husband's world in China.

The times are about to catch up with with the family as powerful historical and politi
Oct 05, 2012 Maggie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! Firstly because of the amazing detail of life in Shanghai before WWII and after.
The writer's father had been born and grew up in China and loved that country so deeply that he could not tear himself away from it. He was a man who could not resist a deal whatever the moral implications and thus made a fortune for himself. But his inability to read the seriousness of life in China through the Japanese invasion and then later when the communists came to power left him serving tim
Brooke Waite
Oct 03, 2016 Brooke Waite rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2106-favorites
A story about home and how home is always in our hearts and minds, how it shapes and defines us, even if we are far away from it. Also a story about family relationships, how things not nurtured can shrivel and fall apart and the long journey back toward redemption. Anna grows up in Shanghai with her rich and glamorous young parents. Shanghai is booming, exotic and full of possibilities! Anna's father loves this is HIS city, always and forever, even during the Japanese occupation (in w ...more
Had The Distant Land of My Father not been shelved in the fiction section of my library, it would have taken me many chapters to realize this was not a memoir. Caldwell writes about the settings so intimately that it is natural to assume she walked the very streets she is describing.

It is clear from the beginning that Anna, the narrator, is not really the central character. Neither is the mother she admires or father she loves. The true heroine is Shanghai. This novel is a romance. The city is
Betsy Wachter
Jan 28, 2008 Betsy Wachter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Betsy by: book group
Now that I am retired I have discovered that I can allow myself the pleasure of reading, right in the middle of the afternoon, or whenever I feel like it! I have joined a book group, which has introduced me to some wonderful new titles. This book is one of the book group selections, as well as the "Silicon Valley Reads" for this year. It is a wonderful story of Anna, whose early childhood is spent in luxury in Shanghai in the 1930's. Live changes for the worse with the Japanese takeover, but Ann ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Corinne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wish I had read this book before I visited Shanghai!! A testament to how 'home' saturates our being. It was very touching to see a man trying to survive in the real world, all the while romanticizing it to what he thought it was, wanted it to be, or remembered it.
May 04, 2012 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading a lot of books lately about China and their culture and I find them very interesting. This is also the story of a family, the love between a girl and her father, their separation and reuniting. There's a lot of history about things that happened during the war, during the time before China was a Communist nation and how things changed. It's a very good book, I found it to be very emotional.
Mar 11, 2017 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just loved this book. A story of parents and daughter, lives lived but not understood. Loved the characters and the story.
Judi Ross
Jan 08, 2017 Judi Ross rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First person narrative told from the point of view of a child about the life she lived with her parents in Shanghai pre- World War II and later in Pasadena, California. The novel beautifully tells the story of The relationship Anna had with her father through these tragic and difficult years, both together and apart. The language is magnificent. I felt I could see, taste and smell everything. Very emotional almost memoir like in tone.
Jul 02, 2008 Allison rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the only redeeming feature of this book is its picturesque description of shanghai in the 1930's. it appears the author has gone through the trouble of researching and condensing hundreds of personal accounts and travelogues to distill for the reader a glimpse of china's romance. but what purpose for her meticulous descriptions of the going ons of the Bund street picturescape when in the end, this reader is left not caring for a soul in the novel. it is indeed romantic if one thinks looking in a ...more
Since meeting the author in person a few weeks ago when she spoke about her more recent book "City of Tranquil Light," I made a point of seeking out Bo Caldwell's first novel, "The Distant Land of My Father." Both works have been inspired by family stories and journals. This one was based on an uncle's experience in Shanghai during the 1930's until after the Communists came to power. The narrator is Anna, whose charmed childhood unfolds within the expat community of Shanghai. Her family lives in ...more
Dec 22, 2013 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 15, 2013 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not quite sure what to make of this. While it is billed as a novel, it appears to be semi-autobiographical, because it includes details that are idiosyncratic and have no particular role in the story. I was interested in it because of the subtitle, which suggested that it was a lot about Shanghai, but the author could not seem to decide whether she wanted to talk about her relationship with her father or talk about him being in Shanghai. I would have preferred more of the latter - I think th ...more
Catherine Adde
May 30, 2009 Catherine Adde rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell

The author wrote an article a few years back called the Beach House about her happy experiences growing up in Southern California, spending idyllic summers at the family cottage in Hermosa Beach. Since she also happens to be from the Pasadena area, I was therefore delighted when I stumbled upon her first book in our Library's stacks. (you just never know what you may find there...I highly suggest browsing the shelves!)

The alluring scene is 1930's Shan
Mar 15, 2009 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bo Caldwell's novel is set in Shanghai immediately before and during WWII, and in South Pasadena,California in the 1940's and 5O's. It is a powerful story of a daughter's relationship with a father whom she first idolizes, then despises, and ultimately forgives. The Shanghai scenes are undoubtedly the most effective, The author clearly recreates the uniquely fragile, ephemeral existence of Shanghai's international community in the 1930's. The sights, sounds, and smell of the city come alive as t ...more
Sep 17, 2016 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzanne by: Chrissie
My Goodreads friend Chrissie recommended this book to me, and from the opening pages I was hooked.

My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s. Polo ponies, a Sikh chauffeur, a villa on eight acres in Hungjao, in the western part of the city. Nights out with my mother at the Cercle Sportif Francais, the Venus Cafe, the Cathay Hotel, the Del Monte - these were the details of his life. He was also an insurance salesman and a smuggler, an importer-exporter and a prisoner, a borrower and a s
Cheri Micheletti
I enjoyed this novel enough to finish it (I read it for a book club, and it provoked interesting discussions), but I find myself even more fascinated by the widely varying reviews, from almost angry to fervidly enthusiastic. Many of the differences seem to come from peoples' expectations and prior knowledge. My own interest was definitely whetted by personal connections--growing up in SoCal myself, and hearing the stories of a friend's mother who was born in Shanghai to a family of Russian emigr ...more
Jul 09, 2011 George rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ipad

“We ate lunch at Clifton’s Cafeteria, or went to Philippe’s for French dips and lemonade [c. 1937].”—page 107 (Philippe’s is still there [c. 2012] with the best French dip sandwiches in L.A.)

With an exceptional sense of time and place, ‘The Distant Land of My Father,’ by Bo Caldwell, is at times an enchanting, albeit melancholy, read. This fictional memoir is set in Shanghai and Los Angeles/Pasadena in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Recommendation: Read also, ‘Shangha
Nov 12, 2010 Lois rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel begins with the glamorous life of wealthy expatriates in 1930s Shanghai. Narrated by Anna, beginning at age 5, it is the story of her relationship with her father, an opportunistic businessman who dotes on her, but is so enamored of the city and its life, that he cannot bring himself to leave with her and her mother, even in the face of imminent occupation. Some of the best parts of the book, taken from his journals, are the descriptions of his imprisonment, first by the Japanese and ...more
Kiran Majeti
May 10, 2014 Kiran Majeti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Distant land of my Father was a book about pre, and post world war two shanghai and the life of the daughter of a wealthy european businessman in china. The story describes the experiences of her father throughout both the Japanese and Communist regimes. The detainment and imprisonment, and how the city has changed. It is a tale of the city that the father of Anna had come to love.
To be honest, I thought that this book was a little boring. The problem is that I like more factual information,
Feb 16, 2016 Poiema rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A dashing young businessman, an American expat, falls in love with Shanghai. The years preceding WWII are golden and with his young wife and daughter, he lives a fairy tale existence. But when the clouds of war threaten to change his way of life, he optimistically chooses to ignore it in hopes that it will be temporary. His beautiful young wife and cherished daughter are endangered by his wishful thinking, and fly back to the States without him. He is not good at maintaining a close relationship ...more
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Bo Caldwell (b. 1955) is the author of the national bestseller, The Distant Land of My Father. She became popular after this book became the book of Silicon Valley Reads 2008. Her short fiction has been published in Ploughshares, Story, Epoch, and other literary journals. A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, she currently lives in Northern California with her husband ...more
More about Bo Caldwell...

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