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Ursula, Under (Shannon Ravenel Books)by Ingrid Hill
Synopses & Reviews
In Michigan's upper peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. A two-and-a-half-year-old girl has fallen down a mine shaft—"the only sound is an astonished tiny intake of breath from Ursula as she goes down, like a penny into the slot of a bank, disappeared, gone." It is as if all hope for life on the planet is bound up in the rescue of this little girl, the first and only child of a young woman of Finnish extraction and her Chinese-American husband. One TV viewer following the action notes that the Wong family lives in a decrepit mobile home and wonders why all this time and money is being "wasted on that half-breed trailer-trash kid."
In response, the novel takes a breathtaking leap back in time to visit Ursula's most remarkable ancestors: a third-century-B.C. Chinese alchemist; an orphaned playmate of a seventeenth-century Swedish queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer (on exotic Chinese topics) traveling the Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century; her great-great-grandfather Jake Maki, who died at twenty-nine in a Michigan iron mine cave-in; and others whose richness and history are contained in the induplicable DNA of just one person—little Ursula Wong.
Ursula's story echoes those of her ancestors, many of whom so narrowly escaped not being born that her very existence—like ours—comes to seem a miracle. Ambitious and accomplished, Ursula, Under is, most of all, wonderfully entertaining—a daring saga of culture, history, and heredity.
Once in a while, a first-time novelist dares to write bravely and big. Ingrid Hill has done just that with her breathtaking first novel.
In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. When a two-year-old girl falls down a mine shaft it is as if all hope for life on the planet is bound up in her rescue. Little Ursula Wong is the first and only child of a young woman of Finnish extraction and her Chinese-American husband. The Wongs live in a decrepit mobile home and their child is designated by one onlooker as "half-breed trailer trash," not worth all the attention and expense.
Oh yeah? responds the story's narrative voice. Let's just see. And here the novel explodes into a grand saga of culture, history, and heredity. By its end, we've met, among others of Ursula Wong's ancestors, a 2nd-century B.C. Chinese alchemist; an orphaned consort to a 16th-century Swedish queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer on exotic Chinese topics traveling the Midwest at the end of the 19th century; and Ursula's great-great-grandfather Jake Maki, a mine worker who died in a cave-in at age twenty-nine.
Ursula's ultimate fate echoes that of her ancestors, so many of whom so narrowly escaped not being born that any given individual's life comes to seem a miracle. Ambitious and accomplished, Ursula, Under is, most of all, wonderfully entertaining.
This remarkable debut novel opens with a two-year-old girl trapped in an abandoned mine shaft, then travels back through history to trace the extraordinary lives of her most unusual and surprising ancestors.
About the Author
Ingrid Hill has published short stories in a range of magazines and is the author of one collection, Dixie Church Interstate Blues. She earned her Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Iowa and has twice received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The mother of twelve children, including two sets of twins, she and her family live in Iowa City.
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