City of Tranquil Light

An Interview with Bo Caldwell, author of City of Tranquil Light

I’m delighted to say I was allowed to interview Bo Caldwell, author of “City of Tranquil Light.”
1. I know you based the novel on the experiences of your relatives, but I noticed you also referred to other missional memoirs like “The Small Woman,” so I wondered throughout the novel if you used true events that were related to you. If so, what events were real? 
It’s very hard to go back and recall exactly what was fictional and what was true.  That said, even when I made up characters and events, I worked at keeping them true in spirit to what happened to the missionaries I read about.  For example, the threat of bandits was very  real, and although I made up “my” bandit, he was based on individuals I read about.
2.  What suggestions would you give to those interested in entering the missions field?
I really don’t feel that I’m an expert on missionaries or the mission field — I would only say what I would say to anyone about pursuing such a demanding commitment:  to do all they can to be sure that God is calling them to the work, and  not their egos or pride.
3. Have you done any other books on this topic or in this setting?
My first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was based on the life of an uncle of mine, who lived much of his life in Shanghai.  The novel takes place in Shanghai and Los Angeles from 1937 to 1961, and in that respect, it’s a prequel to City of Tranquil Light, though it’s not based on the same characters.
4. If you had one hope to express for this book, what might it be? 
If you mean one hope about what comes from the book, I would say that it would mean a great deal to me if the book gave people hope — hope that joy is always possible, even after great loss, and even late in life.  I believe that it’s always possible that the best is yet to come.
Thanks so much for the inspiration and joy I received from your book, Ms. Caldwell and for the opportunity to chat.

Book Review: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

City of Tranquil Light: A Novel     City of Tranquil Light is a novel based on the lives of the author’s maternal Aunt and Uncle. The fictional story of Will and Katherine Kiehn is so moving that I devoured the first 111 pages in a single sitting. After that, I continued to read, but many times with the greatest agony.
     Not because the writing turned to a lesser quality, but because the characters’ little girl dies. As the couple work through their grief, there are questions raised with such honest poignancy that I could not read more than one paragraph at a time because I wept so hard. Anyone who has ever grieved deeply will feel the depth of Katherine’s despair in her talk with God:
     “We buried our daughter yesterday, and I am brought up short by the harshness of Your ways. I have given my all for You and in return you have taken the gift I love most – my sweet child. But perhaps I loved her too much I am mistaken; perhaps I haven’t given my all, but have held something back. Did I love her more than You? I know you are a jealous God, but are You that jealous, that You would take the other object of my devotion? I feel broken, as though there is a great gash inside of me, and my only prayer is a question: ‘What have You done?’ I ask not from anger, but from confusion, for I truly do not understand.
     Perhaps You are a flawed God, imperfect as we are. We are, after all, made in your image. Perhaps it was not Your intention to take Lily, but your inattention. Did You look away for a moment?  Was your mind elsewhere? Many times a day I ask myself what else I could have done and search for some mistake I made.  But perhaps You are at fault, not I. It seems there is so much You could have done.”
     Who among us who has met with loss hasn’t asked these questions?  It is the first of many tragedies they live through, but Mrs. Caldwell allows us to see the glory and wonder of how God can work. The man who stole the medicine that might have saved Lily’s life comes to Will Kiehn and demands – at gun point – that Will treat his son.
     Will knows what this man’s banditry has cost him and I’m sure many of us might tell this bandit where he and his murderous son could go. Will doesn’t. He heals the son and the bandit’s men and earns their trust and gratitude before he’s allowed to return to his wife. Before he does so, he shares the Lord’s Good News with his captors both through the bible and through his actions, but Will’s forgiveness is a long way away.
     Time continues and the bandit’s son goes on a murderous rampage, after which he is captured, tortured and executed. The bandit returns to Will and in an amazing scene filled with the bereft father’s sorrow and humiliation, the bandit chief turns himself in as justice for having raised a shameful son. He is beaten and awaiting trial when Will brings him food and medical treatment. Neither man expects the bandit to survive, but God’s ways are mysterious and wonderful.
     Their lives intertwine throughout the novel, which is a must read for anyone interested in China, missional history or the mission field. If the tremendous losses and beauty in City of Tranquil Light kept me by my tissue box, the heroism, faith and selflessness displayed by Caldwell’s characters kept me reading.