Friday, September 27, 2013

Bruised Hearts

Few possibilities terrify parents more than the loss of a child. Guilt, grief, helplessness, anger, and immobilizing fear mingle to create an emotional stew with a mix of ingredients that varies just enough from person to person to reveal the cracks in once-solid relationships, leaving individuals struggling alone—and often against each other. If the parents are, in addition, early twentieth-century missionaries in a great and ancient land hidden from them as much by their own cultural arrogance and misperceptions as by the unfamiliarity of the terrain, such a crisis raises additional questions: Has my God forsaken me? Have I sinned against Him? Is the husband I considered the master of my soul capable of guidance, or does he in fact require my assistance to find his way home?

Thus begins my blog post introducing my interview with Virginia Pye, about her debut novel, River of Dust. The podcast is now available at New Books in Historical Fiction.


When Grace Watson follows her husband, the Reverend John Wesley Watson, to northwest China in 1910, she does not expect a luxurious life. The Boxer Rebellion a decade before turned peasants against missionaries, and many Europeans died. Moreover, northwest China even in the best of times is a beautiful but barren land, and in 1910 the area has already suffered from drought for more than a year. Grace has miscarried at least twice and is struggling not to do so again when the story begins. But she and the Reverend have one beautiful boy, a toddler, and she trusts her husband to guide them and protect them in the unfamiliar landscape that is their new home. He is such a capable man, so charismatic and committed a preacher. Surely the Lord will uplift and uphold His dedicated servant, even in a place so unfamiliar to Grace.

Grace can see evidence of the Reverend’s concern for her and for their son in the vacation home that he has built with his Chinese servant and convert, Ahcho. The family has not even had time to settle in at this rural refuge when a pair of nomads swoop in from the distant hills and abduct Grace’s son. The Reverend immediately sets out in pursuit of the missing boy, leaving Grace behind to nurture their unborn child with the help of her nursemaid, Mai Lin. As River of Dust unfolds, we see Grace and her husband wrestling, within the limits of their individual natures, with the loss of their precious child. And as they push and pull in different directions, Grace discovers her own inner strength and realizes that the man she counted on to save her may need saving himself.

New Books in Historical Fiction now has an independent Twitter presence at @NewBooksHistFic. Follow us there, and like us on Facebook, to stay up-to-date on the interviews. I also post cover pictures and links on Pinterest as the interviews go live. You can find me on Twitter as @cplesley, on Facebook and Pinterest as Catriona Lesley, and on Goodreads as C.P. Lesley. For more information, see my website (

Northwest China, Setting for River of Dust
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution/ShareAlike license
© 2005 author (no name provided)

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