Book Review: "City of Tranquil Light" by Bo Caldwell

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 twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war. As the couple works to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng— City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love—and face incredible hardship, will their faith and relationship be enough to sustain them?

I absolutely adored reading this book. When I first started reading this book, I could have sworn it was a non fiction memoir. It was hard to believe that it was a fictional account. It is inspired on the lives of the author's grandparents but it's written so convincingly that I could have sworn I was reading the actual accounts of Will and Katherine.

The story is written from Will's point of view with excerpts from Katherine's diary inserted to flesh out the entire story. The reader is taken along for the journey of a lifetime - from Will and Katherine's decision to become missionaries, their journey to China, the beginnings of their mission work, their falling in love, expanding their mission work and all the hardships and celebrations that happen along the way.
Because we see the two different points of view, it's interesting to see certain scenes from both sides and the different reactions and feelings the couple had.

I also loved reading about China during this time period. It is before communism takes over and we get to see the country change. It's very refreshing to read about the culture and lifestyle from an American point of view that doesn't want to change the Chinese people. China becomes a part of Will and Katherine's life to the point that when they come back to the US for a furlough they feel uncomfortable and longing for the simple life back in China. When they do come back for good, they find a Chinese church where they can continue to speak the language and be with those they are most comfortable with.

Even though this book talks about faith and Christianity, as it is published under a general market publishing imprint, it's not a Christian fiction book. I find this interesting because reviews for this book seem to be mainly positive from people that don't normally read Christian fiction. Somehow though, I have a feeling that if the book had been published by a Christian publisher and general market readers read it, the response might not have been so positive. Either way, it shows that readers DO enjoy reading stories about faith. It never feels preachy at all. While the two are passionate about their faith, it never feels as if they are inflicting any of it to the reader intentionally.

This book was an absolute joy to read. It skillfully combines a love story, historical fiction, international culture and a story about the power of faith. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys any of those factors. It's a beautiful read and I applaud Caldwell for bringing the story to life. HIGHLY recommended.

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell is published by Henry Holt and Co. (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher


  1. You've made me very curious about this book and its exploration of faith.


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