Ursula Wong is the title character in Ursula, Under. She is an endearing, precocious two-and-a-half year-old, half Chinese-American, half Finnish-American only child. On an excursion with her parents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, she has fallen down a mineshaft. This is the central plot around which is woven a tapestry of short stories about Ursula’s ancestors, beginning in China of the third century BC. They are used to illustrate the degrees of relationship of the people connected by this tragic occurrence. The tragedy also brings together Ursula’s long-estranged grandparents. The rescue in the final chapter, with all the efforts that go into a successful recovery, would be electrifying – but the flow is interrupted by segues to outside characters who have no family connection and, in at least one instance, no emotional involvement.
While Ingrid Hill’s almost poetic prose paints a beautiful word picture, the book as a whole is sometimes sophistic. Interesting in their own right, the short stories break the tension. The reader does not feel the mind-numbing agony that must paralyze any parent whose child is in jeopardy.