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City of Tranquil Light

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,545 ratings  ·  411 reviews

"What ardent, dazzling souls emerge from these American missionaries in China . . . A beautiful, searing book that leaves an indelible presence in the mind." —Patricia Hampl, author of The Florist's Daughter

Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early

Hardcover, 287 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Carinne Gee I've read it twice and loved it even more the 2nd time. It's an absolutely amazing book. Its filled with inspiration, tragedy, hope and love. Its…moreI've read it twice and loved it even more the 2nd time. It's an absolutely amazing book. Its filled with inspiration, tragedy, hope and love. Its really the love story of these two missionaries set against the historical backdrop of China in the 1920-1930s. But, you have to be a religious person to enjoy this I think. This is not a 'Christian' novel per se. At least I don't consider it a Christian novel, as its sole purpose isn't to preach Christianity to you. However, these are 2 devoted missionaries and they talk about their faith and their beliefs frequently. Their love of God, Christ and their faith is a huge part of them. IF you don't want to hear about those things, then stay away from it. I generally do not like Christian fiction as its preachy and poorly written. This is neither. Its amazing.(less)

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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  1,545 ratings  ·  411 reviews

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Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
Wonderful story of a missionary couple who settle in a small city in China. The novel details the story of their struggle to convert some of the people, but more so it's a story of love for the indigenous people and a desire to help them in many ways.

Katherine is a nurse and does much to help with the ills of the village as the poor have no way to get any kind of medical help. They establish a clinic and a church and become deeply involved with the people that they meet and serve. ...more
Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
I read "The Distant Land of My Father" in the year 2002 ---[thought I had just read one of the best books of my life].

Later when San Jose picked "The Distant Land of My Father" for BOOK of the YEAR --(I was not surprised) --I was excited because I knew I'd get a chance to meet the author.

Listening to Bo Caldwell speak that first night inspired me. Everything about this Bo Caldwell touched me. She wrote a brilliant book. She herself was beautiful. Her family was extraordinary. --A marvelous eve
Clif Hostetler
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
This novel tells the story of a couple who served as Christian missionaries in China from 1906 to 1933. It portrays their story with a sympathetic and positive slant. This is in contrast to prevailing anthropologic thinking that missionaries often served as agents of western colonial interests. The story in this book is of missionaries who honor and appreciate local culture and customs. They dress as locals, adopt Chinese names for themselves and learn the language. Furthermore, they provide muc ...more
Dec 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
It can be hard to find novels that show Christianity in a positive light these days. I don't count the "Christian fiction" genre, as I've rarely found anything worth reading there. But mainstream fiction usually portrays Christians in a negative way, if it portrays them at all. And Christian missionaries? Don't get me started.

City of Tranquil Light is a beautiful novel that tells the story of a missionary couple in China in a very respectful, loving way. These missionaries are not crazy men and/>City
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a lyrical novel based partly on the author's maternal grandparents' work as missionaries in China in the early Twentieth Century. It vividly brings to life what it was like to live in a small farming town on the North China plain whose way of life was slowly moving into the modern world amidst disease, famine and war. The story is one of faith amid hardship and doubt, with the story progressing in a low key style. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book attracted my notice because of my Chinese connection with the past. Not only did I spend my early childhood in Taiwan where my parents taught English, but my grandmother was born and raised in China by her missionary parents. My mother and father also taught English there at a later time, but I didn’t accompany them on that trip. Their home has always been open to hosting students from China, many of whom have become our friends over the years. My grandmother spoke Mandarin all her lif ...more
I lifted this review. I loaned the library book forgetting to copy some marvelous quotes I planned to use to write my comments.

"I have learned to do what God places in front of me, whatever that is," Will Kiehn says as he explains to Hsiao Lao, the bandit chief, his commitment to help anybody in need, be that a sick old farmer or an injured thief. Those same words could also sum up Will's life story in City of Tranquil Light."

In 1909 Will and his wife, Katherine arrived i
Sherry Elmer
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When this book was chosen by my book club, I wasn't expecting much from a modern book about China. I am happy that I was wrong. This is a beautiful book, well worth the time reading it.

City of Tranquil Light is a love story. It is a love story about a husband and wife who faithfully love each other through intense trials and great joy, grievous loss and gifts of grace. It is the story of an American couples' deep love for the Chinese people, and it is the story of their Chinese frien
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a review I don't want to write. Though I finished "City of Tranquil Light" a couple of weeks ago, and the aura of the characters has faded, I'm not ready to close the book. It is a book that has a classic feel, and calls out to be read and re-read.

"City of Tranquil Light" is a deep, tender, story that flows on many levels. Themes of life's purpose/ calling, maturity, China, marriage, cross-cultural living/ transformation, life & death, suffering, self-sacrifice, retiremen
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of my local book clubs chose this title and hosted the author after our discussion. Bo Caldwell has fictionalized her grandfather's journal of a missionary career in China from 1906 to 1940. The story is an engaging treatment of a tumultuous period in Chinese history.Central to the focus of the plot is the enduring love story between the grandparents who share the missionary experience. Katherine brings the useful and practical skills of nursing to their mission and Will brings his faith and ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing

A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, Bo Caldwell demonstrates her ability to provide a fulfilling sensory experience as she recreates a slice of place and time in early twentieth-century China. The two thousand-year-old dynasty is crumbling and civil war rocks the county. Into this turmoil steps a set of unmarried mid-western Mennonite missionaries, Will and Katherine, who are each determined to give their skills and their hearts to the people of China.

Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Amy by: Michelle
In the middle of this book, I thought I might give this 4.5 stars, mostly because I reserve 5 stars for books I would want to read again. Then in the last 50 pages of the book, I changed my rating to 5. This is such a beautiful story with enormously beautiful characters. It made me want to strengthen my relationship to my Savior; it made me want to increase my faith; it made me want to be more in tune to the spirit. I was in tears at the end; I think because of the timing in my personal life, no ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it
This book held my interest and was in many ways enchanting. I value how much I learned about rural China's culture of this past century and look forward to how it might inform my understanding of China's culture today. I thought the faith aspects were handled just right and appreciated them. At times I wondered if it would've been a better read if written with more plot structure vs. like a memoir, but I netted out that the author told her story the way it was meant to be told. My rating is a si ...more
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is a rare story that has the power to say that the reading of it has significantly stirred your soul and changed your perspective. This is one of those stories; a genuine gift to read. Best book I've read in quite some time. An elegantly written story about remarkable people. Keep the tissue handy.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book after I’d avoided it for a while. Should not have done that.
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
City of Tranquil Light is the story of a missionary couple to China and spans from 1906 to 1966. The story alternates the voices of Will and Katherine. Hearing two viewpoints adds depth and dimension to the tale. Their faith and the country and people they love are strong characters in the book as well. The love the two share reaches out from the pages and enlarges the reader's heart to love more, better, bigger.

"When you leave a place you love, you leave a piece of your heart. But you take wit
Dec 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. The author's voice is compelling and articulate. The story is told by two narrators; Will and Katherine. Their voices and outlooks are distinct and different from one another. Although they are married and serve together in China, their experiences and perceptions are very different.

The years the couple are in China are pivotal in the country's economic and political outcome. A dynasty ends, a civil war is fought, there is drought and famine,
Jun 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
City of Tranquil Light is a quiet book - there's a lot going on, but the touch is barely there, most of the time. The tale of two Mennonite missionaries on the Great China Plain, the day-to-day sorrows and triumphs of these ordinary people are compelling. There are a few "loud" moments (the beheadings, for example) but that only makes them stand out more. The decision to tell the story through Will's remembering and Katherine's journal adds to the slightly removed tone.

One of the big comp
Eric Wright
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book to transport one into China in the early 1900's and into the heat and soul of a couple committed to helping the Chinese and serving Christ. One of the best missionary biographies I've read...but it isn't a biography but fiction based on the lives of the author's maternal grandparents.

An ordinary man, Will Kiehn of a farming family hears the call of God and goes to the North China Plain in 1906. There he is meets Katherine, a fellow missionary and nurse who at first
Good Book Fairy
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, asian
After waiting what seems like forever for Bo Caldwell to release another book, i've decided it was worth the wait. Reminiscent story telling as in The Distant Land of My Father, this book creates China to be it's own wonderful character.
The subject was loosely based on the author's own family and it brought me back to The Good Earth by Pearl Buck mixed with a dollop of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
Their commitment to their faith was believable, beautiful and inspiring.
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a 'quiet' historical fiction book set in China right before the communist takeover. Two Mennonite missionaries served in a little village. He preached; she was more like the village doctor. They were well suited together and each had their own niche in the area they served, and both were given their own POV in this book.

I've lived in a foreign country, as have my 3 adult children. We all had some kind of 'culture shock'. But the characters in this book didn't seem to address that. It w
Dec 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: me
Hauntingly beautiful and thought-provoking. I was so encouraged and challenged in my faith. I couldn't put this down.
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautiful, heartbreaking story that leaves you full of emotion and thought. Still pondering this book.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book! I loved how the book gave nearly a full account of the lives of the main characters. I kept wondering which parts were true. I would have liked an addendum to explore that more.

Much to my surprise, I liked the Chinese words interspersed throughout (with their translations, of course!). I learned so much about China’s history and culture, as well as what it might be like to serve in a foreign mission. I have gained a desire to learn more about China and also spend some
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.25. exquisitely written; a true love story between Husband and Wife, missionaries in China, their deep faith that they shared with the Chinese; and their ardent, genuine love for China. Quietly delivers a knock out punch
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am a little book desperate right now, and this book was a good balm. It’s the story of missionaries to China in the early part of the 20th century, and like The Painted Veil (without the adultery) this book paints a picture of China in ages past. It veers away from nostalgia through its sheer tenacity and although it wasn’t a perfect book, I enjoyed it not a little.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent story
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Write more Bo Caldwell!!!
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, arc
This review first appeared on my blog:

Gorgeous! Just that word .. it's a gorgeous story. The deep and true love and strength and faith through unimaginable poverty and hardships and loss ... This was a book that you really didn't want to put down. I felt myself drawn into these missionaries' lives (not as though I'd want to live them, however, as I'm a bit too used to running water, electricity, and food to want to live their lives), but feeling as they felt and seeing what strengths e
Rose Bedwell
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In reality, I would give the book a 4.5. The way I experienced this book has been quite amazing. I downloaded the audio version of the book on my iPhone. One night when I couldn't sleep due to my husband's snoring I put my earphones in and listened. I awoke the next morning still "listening" to this book. The reader is monotone and very low keyed--which in retrospect is quite perfect. The story does have dark moments. Each night for the last 4-5 weeks I have done the same--awaking during the nig ...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
“Hsiao Lao smiled weakly. "He is a foolish God... Your God does not behave in the way I would expect." I laughed suddenly, for I had thought the same many times -- how foolish God is with me, my sweet, spendthrift, profligate Lord, bestowing on me things I would not have thought myself capable of. "It may seem that way, Hsaso Lao. He is foolish in His giving and in His care for us. He has spoiled me throughout my life.” 6 likes
“My father had told me when I was young that courage was not strength in the absence of fear but strength in the presence of fear, and I asked God for the courage to withstand whatever lay ahead. I felt His forgiveness wash over me, lessening my remorse.” 2 likes
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