This is one of the best historical novels I have read in a long time! Jane McPherson and her long-lost but newly-found daughter, Mei, tell their life stories to an American film documentary writer while traveling to Peking over several days on a Chinese “hard sleeper” train. Jane’s and Mei’s bond deepens during this journey, and the American characters come to understand the intricacies of a China they hardly know.
The story begins with the murder of Cyrus and Della McPherson, American missionaries serving in Peking when Communism and Japan are vying for a China “unraveling at the seams.” Jane’s growing admiration turns to love for Han, a young man from a traditional family but more deeply attracted to the Communist vision. Ambrose Varley, becoming more Chinese than American over the years, helps Han clarify the confusion. Jane’s father, Cyrus, preaches a dire warning about the historical tide Communism is about to unleash. Jane and her brother, Will, are unable to discover whether a disgruntled Chinese servant or Communist secret band is responsible for their parents’ grisly murder.
Whisked away to Shanghai in the summer of 1936, Jane and Will live with Donald and Electra Bauman, old family friends, who are trying to build both Chinese and Japanese relationships since invasion seems inevitable. Tragedy enfolds the newly- forged family because of Will’s determination to discover his parents’ real murderers.
The authors’ rich characterization, intricate plot, and accurate historical record constantly engage the reader in this superb story of two women’s stamina throughout a complex period of Chinese history.