Quite successful and continuously interesting, The Innocent Dreamers portrays unromantically the development of Chinese institutions since about 1838 but mainly since 1912 or so. This is shown first through the Haldane family, British traders in Shanghai, then through the intermarriage of Deborah Haldane with a Chinese, David Wu. New China follows new China upon new China as the nation keeps splitting and reforming politically, and Deborah and David know no peace during the turmoil. Both are cast out of their respective families, because of their marriage. Deborah, though raised in Shanghai, is Wellesley-educated, and David studied with Sun Yat-sen. Their sons' fates reflect their parents' origins, the elder son Ho eventually becoming a compatriot of Mao Tse Tsung and enduring the famous Long March with him, and the younger son, Ian, becoming a lay Catholic missionary. The novel carries the reader right up into present-day China, with the brothers finally confronting each other in a Communist prison where both are prisoners. The ""innocent dreamers"" of the Wu family manage always somehow to resist the incredible fatalism of Eastern life. Of the novel itself, the constant intrusion of politics disspel any sense of it being ""women's fiction"", but its narrative devices keep it always at one remove from immediacy.