Ursula, Under
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Ursula, Under

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  900 ratings  ·  185 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...more
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?...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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
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...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.
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
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 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
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...more
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...more
Celeste Ng
This was recommended to me by a bookseller (at the amazing Porter Square Books!) and I must say, booksellers know the best hidden gems. I'd never heard of this book or author, but it's a big, ambitious novel, spanning millenia and exuberantly written. It starts with a tragedy--two-year-old Ursula Wong falls down an unused mine shaft in Michigans Upper Peninsula--but then dives into Ursula's genealogy, examining all the twists and turns of fate in her ancestors' lives that led to this one child....more
Oh, the joys of browsing the "New Books" shelf! Happened upon this gem, a rich tapestry of interwoven stories. It starts as the story of a two-year-old girl who falls down a mine shaft on a family outing, but this episode actually takes up fewer than 100 pages of the 475-page book. The rest of the story is about her ancestors, Chinese on her dad's side and Finnish on her mom's. The author reminds me of the Three Fates, as she weaves back and forth among past, present, and future to tell the hist...more
The book is longish, with ancestor stories popping up out of multiple centuries, but it kept my attention. Ingrid Hill's story-telling abilities did not disappoint with any of her far-ranging characters, and until the end she kept up the suspense about whether descendent, two-year old Ursula Wong, would be rescued from her fall into a long forgotten mine shaft.

Now more than ever I am curious about my own ancestors. Who were they? Where did they live? Perhaps the lives of a rare one or two are n...more
2010- This book was a pleasant surprise. A family saga of sorts, the novel begins with the present-day story of little Ursula Wong, who falls down a mining shaft while out on a picnic with her parents. From there, the author goes back and forth in time, showing us the generations of Chinese and Finnish ancestors that lay in Ursula's family tree. Each one of these stories was extremely adsorbing in their own right, with the author having a knack for evoking a variety of times and places. Alternat...more
Pam Anderson
Ursula, age 2 1/2, falls into an abandoned mine shaft in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan. With this plot as the current story, history with Ursula's ancestors in ancient China and Scandinavia, and continuing through time up to the present unfold. The author spotlights some of the different people who have contributed to Ursula's lineage and current predicament; these include a Chinese nobleman, a French missionary, Finnish copper miners, and an alcoholic real estate saleswoman. Chapters about th...more
Amy M
Initially, perhaps for the first 100 pages, I found myself too aware of what I was considering "the gimmick" of this book, but once I got deeper into the book, I became completely engrossed in the stories of all of the ancestors and the intersections of lives throughout the centuries and the idea that the world was (and is?) a small place. Ingrid Hill provides exacting details of the environments of all of the ancestors, as well as an incredible series of stories for each ancestor, it's almost a...more
I thoroughly enjoyed Ursula, Under! As the comments on the back repeatedly proclaimed, the author was able to weave together a rich tapestry of stories of lives, trials, and miracles that make up the legacy of this young girl. The book made me think about how we become who we are, and the stories that make up our own life. As a believer in Jesus it makes me marvel and wonder even more to know that each story is one seen and known intimately by my God.

I also liked how the author would weave in h...more
A very interesting story about a little girl who falls into an abandoned mine shaft. As her young parents patiently but desperately wait for her to be rescued, the author weaves a fascinating family history from ancient China to Finland to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.The lives of the main characters are cleverly inter woven with other through chance meetings as well as with ancestors.
" It is evening when they arrive at the switching point and AhLee feels momentarily irritable: 'will...more
understanding the history of ourselves is something that few in my generation spend a great deal of time doing, i believe.... and seeing the connection of history to the giant play that is unfolding inside our everyday lives is a feat that few can master whilst trying to overcome the sheer mountains before us. the mind'seye view is therefore flawed. and yet, in ursula under, you find the history of a girl who has fallen down a mineshaft, thru the vast expanse of her family's space in time. sever...more
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.

I really wanted to enjoy this book but never got engaged. The gimick is that a girl falls down an old mine shaft at the very beginning and we don't know whether she's going to come out alive. She is her parents only child and essentially the end of her particular genetic line. The author then takes through a tour of her ancestors, giving a chapter each to a selected few. I think this is to make us really care about the girl in the mine and whether she gets out okay. Unfortunately, none of the an...more
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