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.
"[Hill] astounds with her ability to meld simply and beautifully told stories, stories with an air of fable about them." —The Washington Post Book World
"It’s a divine view of a family tree... Ride along to the end of this merry, generous book." —Time Out New York
"Hill’s stories lure-the characters are vital, clever, detailed, appealing; I wolfed the book down like a bowl of cookie dough." —The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Ursula, Under never ceases to surprise and compel. What a grand and daring book." —Brady Udall, author of The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint
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.
One of the most widely praised and rapturously entertaining first novels in recent years begins with a little girl falling down an abandoned mineshaft in Michigans Upper Peninsula. Her name is Ursula Wong, shes part Chinese, part Finnish, only two years old, and soon the dangerous effort to rescue her has an entire country glued to the TV. As it follows that effort, Ursula, Under re-creates the chain of ancestors, across two thousand years, whose lives culminate in the fragile miracle of a little girl underground: a Chinese alchemist in the third century bc, the orphaned playmate to a seventeenth- century Swedish queen, Ursula's great-great-grandfather who was the casualty of a mining accident that eerily foreshadows Ursulas dilemma, and many more. A work of symphonic richness and profound empathy, Ursula, Under dramatically demonstrates that no one is truly alone.
About the Author
Ingrid Hill is the author of the short story collection Dixie Church Interstate Blues. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa and has twice received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has twelve children, including two sets of twins. She lives in Iowa City.