I realized something lately. I have a deep love for stories told from family history. Some of my favorite stories are ones mined from past generations of the authors’ families: The Year We Were Famous, by Carole Estby Dagg; The Star That Always Stays, by Anna Rose Johnson; and today’s featured story, The View from Pagoda Hill, by Michaela MacColl. It makes sense, as I love digging into family history. I also think there’s something very intrinsically human about desiring stories to be remembered. What did we invent the alphabet for, if not to record our stories to be remembered by those who came after us?
The View from Pagoda Hill is the story of Michaela Macoll’s great-great-grandmother, a half-Chinese, half-American girl growing up in Shanghai and later upstate New York in the late 1800’s. Ning, or Neenah, as she is later called, gets the worst of both worlds, in a sense. In China, she is too tall, too Western, with too big feet (compared to the bound feet of her peers). So her mother sends her to join her father’s family in New York—where she is too Chinese for her new neigbors and family. The story and style reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables (particularly the latter as regarded Neenah’s relationship with her grandfather and step-grandmother). It’s also a perfect book to pair with either of those stories, to tell a more full story of our world and country at that time. (I find the advice to read more rather than less to avoid accepting old cultural norms is sound and good.)
My favorite part about this story is that despite all the tragedy Ning/Neenah lives through (particularly the pervasive feeling of being unwanted), there is an abiding sense of hope. Perhaps because it’s based on a true story, I found that hope to be believable and real. Even two years after reading the story for the first time, it’s that hope that still has me recommending it to my daughters and friends, dipping into it for a re-read, and thinking about its characters and scenes. The mark of a truly excellent book!
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!