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Ursula, Under

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,087 ratings  ·  219 reviews
Once in a while, a first-time novelist dares to write bravely and big. Ingrid Hill has done just that with her breathtaking first novel.
In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. When a two-year-old girl falls down a mine shaft it is as if all hope for life on the planet is bound up in her rescue. Little Ursula
Published (first published 2004)
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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
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
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 21, 2007 Kathy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.
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.

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
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
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
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.

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!
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
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.
This book reminded me a bit of Away by Amy Bloom in its style of telling the story of a different character in each chapter while maintaining at least a slight connection with the central thread. It starts with a couple in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan losing their little girl, Ursula down an abandoned mine shaft. Then it tells each of their stories and those of their parents interspersed with stories of ancestors from various places and times before eventually looping back to the present.

I lo
Vicki Webb
I really recommend this book. A brief synopsis of the story: 2 year old Ursula Wong-part Chinese, part Finnish- falls down a disused mine shaft. Soon the entire country is focused on the dangerous effort to rescue her. As it follows that effort, the author takes us on a chain of ancestors, across 2000 years, whose lives culminate in the fragile miracle of the little girl underground. In telling their stories, we get a deep sense of not only how Ursula is linked to all these people, but also how ...more
Líam P
Boy, did I struggle with this, dragging myself through to 100 pages in the hope of the milestone (of sorts) would help me through to the other side. It barely registered.

"Ursula, Under" is a book high on concept, but very low on execution, the attempt to zoom through layers of family history undermined by a glib, throwaway, narrative style. Any sense of tension was lost with what I took to be smart-alec asides to camera (these historic characters don't know what's coming, tee hee!), taking the
Barbara Skalberg
I probably would have enjoyed this more if the library hadn't shelved it under "non fiction." I spent the entire book annoyed that it was trying to pass itself off as a true story when there was no way it could be. If I had read the author's note on the title page where it clearly states the book was a work of fiction to start instead of after I was finished, I would have had a better attitude about it. *sigh* Interesting concept to give little vignettes about her family tree to make the reader ...more
I struggled with this book as it is one of those which jumps back in time.

The story of Ursula who falls down an old mine shaft is the glue that holds the story together.

She s part Chines and part Finnish in ancestry. The story jumps back to her ancestors way back. I was not keen on the Silk route story or the Chinese Jesuit missionary story but once the time line moved forward I began to really become absorbed in the family history of this little girl.

This is not an easy read and the author mus
This book opened with a tragic fall by a young girl into a mine shaft in northern Michigan. It then wove stories of her ancestors into a series of snapshots in time starting with her Chinese ancestors from 300 BC to her equally early ancestry from the area that is now Finland. The book also travelled through the centuries to the present day to form a more complete history of her heritage. These stories helped draw parallels of her past with the present situation but they also helped shape the co ...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 just re-read "Ursula, Under" and for me it did not hold up as well on a second reading. I remember loving the concept and being enthralled by the stories of Ursula's ancestors, but this time, as some others have noted, some of the stories just seemed very long. One of the things I did enjoy was the self-aware omniscient POV, that would sometimes provide side comments about minor characters. Splitting the difference between a 5 on first reading and a 3 on the second...
Sherry (sethurner)
"On a crystalline, perfectly blue morning in June, after a day of angry pewter skies and of sheeting, driving rain, we enter our story." And it is one long, involved story. Actually several stories all woven together. The main plot line revolves around the small daughter of a Finnish-American mother and a Chinese-American father. Little Ursula tumbled down an abandoned mine shaft in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and a frantic effort ensues to rescue her. But before the reader can find out if the s ...more
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
I wanted to really like this book. The premise was interesting but I need more than one chapter to get attached to a character ... The book is more a collection of loosely connected, self-contained short stories. I did become impatient during the last two sections to just have the mystery of Ursula's fate resolved. Having said that, the language is very descriptive and you are part of each story – even if each story is just a flash.
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