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Holdstock, Pauline.

Toronto, Simon & Pierre, 1987. 159pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-8B924-191-0. CIP

Reviewed by E. Robson

Volume 16 Number 4
1988 July

Pauline Holdstock, an Englishwoman who settled in British Columbia, wrote short stories for literary magazines before leaving teaching and writing her first novel. This gripping story takes place during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China when foreigners were driven out or killed. Three Canadian missionaries are forced to flee their missions amid the drought, corruption, poverty and mistrust of the uprising. Told mostly from Emily's perspective, the novel illustrates Martha's, William's and Emily's loss of faith and suffering. During the journey both Emily's newborn baby and William himself die, and only the help of Buddhist monks enables the women and the young son to escape to the river and home to Canada.

The heart-breaking trek is reminiscent of parts of Milton's Paradise Last or Dante's Inferno in the horror and fear each character experiences. Despite all the hardships, including hunger, drought, opium addiction and failure of the mission, each reaches paradise—Emily in her idyllic Canadian childhood home, William in his beloved China, Martha in a Buddhist temple back in China after the uprising.

This beautifully written novel illustrates Holdstock's ability to use language and to convey the internal thoughts and feelings of three troubled people whose faith is shaken or lost in a hostile environment. Although short and easily read, this novel is not escapist fiction; it will be most enjoyed and understood by senior students and adults who appreciate good literature.

E. Robson, Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute, Scarborough, Ont.
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