This ambitious novel presents unusual events ten years after an international adoption.  Because of the Chinese one-child policy, Chinese peasant woman Xiao Lu abandons her second daughter Chun in a rural market, knowing that the child will be sent to an orphanage. An American couple adopt the child, calling her Katie. As a celebration for Katie’s tenth birthday, they return to southwest China, hoping to meet the birth mother.  

In a series of unusual events, they find Xiao Lu, and it is, at first, a joyous event. Troubles mount, however, as the birth mother wants Katie to stay with her, and Katie feels a mystical bond between them. Xiao Lu, having left her husband, now lives as a hermit in a hut on the slopes of The One Hundred Mile Mountain. She sweeps the 100 steps of The Elephant Temple daily and practices calligraphy in her hut.  

Pep and Clio Macy, having married late, could not get pregnant. The novel satirizes them as aging Yuppies, spoiled and materialistic. Clio wears a Movado watch worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The family’s cockerpoo has been boarded at home. Katie dislikes being the only Chinese American in her private school.  

After the birth mother has been found, the mood of the book changes. Xiao Lu wants her child returned, and the Macys fear that they are in danger. In the last 100 pages, nature itself attacks the Americans with snakes, monkeys, bats, a huge millipede, and even the weather. Pep is injured and receives rough, traditional medical treatment from a monk; it appears to be effective, however, in healing his heart physically and spiritually—a resonance with the book’s title. Katie becomes more and more like Xiao, learning calligraphy and some Chinese language. When Xiao is grievously injured by the monkeys, the Macys effectively care for her, and previous conflicts are resolved.


The first two thirds of the book read as a realistic novel. Chapters are told from different points of view to introduce the characters and italicized passages put us into their private thoughts.  We review notable events in Chinese history: 1962, the Year of Famine and also when Xiao was born; the Cultural Revolution of 1966 of 1976 that rejected ancient Chinese traditions; and the introduction of the One Child Policy in the years 1978-1980 that caused much turmoil, including the abandonment of many girl infants such as Chun/Katie.  

The last third of the novel evolves into a mixture of romance, melodrama, and fantasy, although keeping some realistic details. Under duress, the spoiled, elitist Americans find their inner, primal selves in the rural, timeless Chinese mountains. On the very last pages we see them together with Xiao Lu as one happy family; they are now going to meet with Xiao Lu's first daughter, Xia. Although the Macys’ travel visas have expired, no one cares about that.  

The book becomes a sort of Robinsonade, a cautionary tale of “cultured” people in a “primitive” setting where they are at first inept but later efficient. Pep suddenly reveals that he has taken an EMT course and can treat various injuries. Reserved Clio splits open the head of an attacking monkey with a machete, splattering brains and blood. In the last several pages, we have the first description of sexual attraction between the reawakened Pep and Clio. Katie, the central figure of the story, has matured a lot in a short time and seems to have become almost Chinese, a changeling figure of sorts. What will happen to her next?  

The book provides important insights into the adoption of a foreign child, the birth mother, and the adopting parents, as well as adventure, entertainment, and a panoramic view of rural China in the last third of the 20th century, when various government programs caused much trouble for the populace.


Seven Stories Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count