Book Review: RIVER OF DUST

“[T]hey both looked out at the night. The restless grasses hovered nearby, and the mountains rose, a shadow of a shadow in the distance. To find the boy, they would have to cross over them and then traverse much more.”

Virginia Pye, RIVER OF DUST

Publisher Description:

On the windswept plains of northwestern China not long after the Boxer Rebellion, Mongol bandits swoop down upon an American missionary couple and kidnap their small child. As the Reverend sets out in search of the boy, he quickly loses himself in the rugged, corrupt, drought-stricken countryside populated by opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. Grace, his young wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband begin to beckon to her from across the plains.

The foreign couple’s capable and dedicated Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, accompany and eventually lead them through dangerous territory to find one another again. With their Christian beliefs sorely tested, their concept of fate expanded, and their physical health rapidly deteriorating, the Reverend and Grace may finally discover an understanding between them that is greater than the vast distance they have come.

Inspired in part by journals of her grandfather, who was himself an early missionary in China, Virginia Pye delivers a hypnotic, emotionally powerful, spiritually resonant debut that is at once both lyrical and dynamic.

My Recommendation

I found RIVER OF DUST terrifying and captivating. As a mother, I felt the horror of the kidnapping scene so acutely I couldn’t sleep. As a wife, I felt how Grace’s heart left her on every new quest her husband began to find their boy. As a woman, I appreciated the power Grace assumed over the course of the book in spite of her failing health. As a reader and writer, I was in awe of the transformations of the characters–men and women deteriorating in the faith they had come to teach, becoming more savage as their community failed, yet somehow growing in their humanity.

Pye was inspired by her grandfather’s missionary work in China in the early twentieth century, less than a decade after the Boxer Rebellion. Her descriptions of the living conditions of the foreigners and the Chinese, the relentless dust of the Shanxi Province plains, and the opium dens are vivid, and her characters are unique and fascinating.

RIVER OF DUST would be an ideal choice for book clubs because it is beautifully written and thought provoking. Readers interested in history, Americans abroad, and the struggles of missionaries will highly enjoy RIVER OF DUST.

For more on the author and the novel, visit .


3 thoughts on “Book Review: RIVER OF DUST

  1. Your review has me hooked, Erika. It sounds wonderful.

  2. […] but this unflinching look…shares truth in its own way.” Her debut novel, River of Dust, (which I loved!) was chosen as an Indie Next Pick and a 2014 Virginia Literary Awards Finalist. Virginia has […]

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