I didn't expect much when I started this book, but after several pages, I couldn't put it down! It was beautifully written and still lingers with me months after finishing it. A wonderful story.
I found the theme of this 2004 first novel by John Dalton particularly unique because I seemed to develop understanding and insight along with the main character, Vincent, an upright, righteous and terribly naÃ¯ve young Midwestern American missionary. He tries; he really does, to bring the word of Jesus to the people. But that doesn't really work as he, himself, gets drawn into the culture, begins to change and open up in new and unexpected, ways. Then, a wealthy Chinese businessman offers Vincent money to go to mainland China, take part in a counterfeit marriage, and bring the young woman back to Taiwan.
During the trip to China, Vincent quickly learns that he is not in Kansas anymore. Everything is harsh and unpredictable. And he is forced to question every single preconceived notion he has ever had. This trip is fascinating and somewhat disturbing. The Chinese characters are complex and real. He slowly sees the thin line of trust erode.
And then, just when I thought I had the book all figured out, there is a shift, and the story turns from rather sad to one of joy. By the end of the book, I was smiling.
This book takes some careful reading because it is very detailed, but the writing is lyrical and well thought out. The characters became very real to me, and the plot developed into one that kept me reading.
A wonderful first book from this author.
One of the best written books I've read in a while.
A detail reader will enjoy this book. Once read--it provides thought provking questions. I struggled to finish it--but was thrilled when I did. Gives an exploration of modern-day China--as well as an exploration of lonliness, love and the nature of faith.
From Publishers Weekly
Sober and searching yet sublimely comic, this impressive debut about a modern-day missionary in Taiwan charts a journey away from reflexive faith and toward a broader understanding of the world and its ways. Reminiscent of the work of Graham Greene and Norman Rush, but possessing a quirky innocence and gravitas all its own, the novel is crammed with heady matters, clashes of cultures, ill-considered schemes and unrequited love. Vincent Saunders, a man with strong religious beliefs, leaves his tiny Illinois hamlet to take a job as a Christian missionary in Taiwan. As the only volunteer in the mid-sized city of Toulio, he establishes and runs the ministry house, while teaching English classes to make ends meet. His Toulio acquaintances are an odd bunch: fellow boarder Alec, a foul-mouthed, hashish-smoking Scot; Shao-fei, the crippled son of Vincent's landlady; Gloria, a late-arriving volunteer with a passion for Chinese calligraphy and proselytizing. There is also Mr. Gwa, a local businessman, who offers Vincent $10,000 to go to mainland China, find the lovely young girl who has long bewitched the rich merchant, and pretend to marry her in order to bring her back. At first refusing to take the job on moral grounds, Vincent is forced to reconsider after he succumbs to the aggressive advances of Trudy, a wayward teenage girl in one of his English classes, which costs him his job and standing in the community. Rethinking Mr. Gwa's offer, he heads for China to bring back Kai-Ling, the man's bride. It is during this memorable journey to the heart of modern China that Vincent comes of age, emotionally and spiritually, enduring thieves, bizarre encounters and false promises from a reluctant bride with a lover on the side. Artfully pacing the series of revelations that rock the book on its way to a surprising conclusion, Dalton revises conventional assumptions about contemporary China and collective cultural views of love and marriage. This is a noteworthy first novel by a writer to watch.
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winner of Discover Great New Writers Award