The Distant Land of My Father (Charnwood Library)

Caldwell, Bo

Published by Charnwood, 2003
ISBN 10: 0708994466 / ISBN 13: 9780708994467
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Synopsis: Anna Schoene is a golden child. Her parents, Joseph and Genevieve, were rich American expats in Shanghai before the Japanese invaded, before the war intervened. The child of missionaries, Joseph Schoene has made his fortune on his wits; he is a man in love with China, his daughter, and with the idea of taking risks. For the young Anna, Shanghai is a magical world; she loves the city as much as her father does. But when the Japanese invade and when war comes, even Anna knows that their life in China is over. Joseph sends his wife and daughter back to America with the promise that they will soon be reunited, but, despite imprisonment by the Japanese and the loss of much of his fortune, for decades he cannot bring himself to follow them. Anna grows up half way across the world from her home and her father, and it is only over the years that she gradually learns Joseph's real story the story both of his Chinese past and, finally, that of his old age in California.

Review: The Distant Land of My Father begins like a fairy tale: "My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s.... On the day he was born, in the province of Shantung, neighbors presented my missionary grandparents, the only Americans for miles, with noodles in great abundance and one hundred chicken eggs, in honor of their son's birth." To the young Anna Schoene, life in Shanghai is indeed magical. There are servants, a luxurious villa, a beautiful mother who smells like Chanel No. 5, and a young, handsome, polo-playing father. Unfortunately, her father is also a smuggler and speculator who loves his freewheeling life more than anything (or anyone) else. Despite warnings, Schoene refuses to leave Shanghai even after the Japanese invade, and his wife and child retreat to Los Angeles; later, he survives imprisonment and torture only to once again choose Shanghai over his family--this time with the Communists moving in.

Bo Caldwell's sepia-toned evocation of 1930s Shanghai is lovely and physical, and given the built-in drama of its setting, this first novel ought to have the vividness of a classic movie. Yet the characters remain oddly flat while world events swirl around them. Great chunks of historical exposition seem largely undigested, while Schoene's final change of heart fails to ring true. In a sense, however, these shortcomings are beside the point. The Distant Land of My Father is above all a tragic romance, albeit one with an unusual love interest. Schoene is so besotted with Shanghai that his wife and daughter are scarcely as real to him as the city itself. --Mary Park

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Distant Land of My Father (Charnwood ...
Publisher: Charnwood
Publication Date: 2003
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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