Dreams of the Red Phoenix

Written by Virginia Pye
Review by Viviane Crystal

In 1937, Japan invades northern China while the feuding Nationalists and Communists are trying to decide if they should unite against this common enemy. In this tumultuous world we meet Caleb, Shirley, and their son, Charles, missionaries serving in the region. The phoenix bird, Fenghuang, which represents the full range of Yin and Yang in life, symbolizes the Chinese belief in immortality, a symbol of steadiness in these difficult times.

Now we discover that Caleb has recently been killed by a mudslide while also serving as a spy for the Communists. Shirley rises from her grieving state to open a medical clinic serving the needs of those Chinese wounded in the Japanese incursion. White missionaries mistakenly think they are helping “these poor people.” The plot is breathtakingly poignant, but what is even more astonishing is the gradual erosion of American arrogance and the realization that so many assumptions about Asian motives and actions are totally erroneous. Caleb, Shirley, and Charles are forced by military and civilian characters to understand how their Chinese friends and acquaintances focus on the good of all rather than one’s personal choices.

Chinese lives parallel the journey of the phoenix through life and death, a life now about to change momentously. Each American character is humbled and awed upon this realization. Meanwhile, old Nationalist Tupan Feng says, “The Chinese phoenix will never land again in this country…The emperor of all birds has flown!” Dreams of the Red Phoenix is written in evocative, compelling language that should be required reading for those who wish to comprehend service to other nations and true Chinese patriotism during this poignant period of suffering and hope. Superb historical fiction!