In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. A two-year-old girl has fallen down a mine shaft and 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 member of the TV audience 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 second-century-BC Chinese alchemist; an orphaned consort to a sixteenth-century Swedish queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer on exotic Chinese topics travelling the Midwest at the end of the nineteenth 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 those of her ancestors, 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