In Patrick’s (On the Beat, 2011) historical novel, a young American man marries a beautiful Chinese woman at the dawn of the railway era in the West.
Edwin Stratton grew up on an Iowa farm, but after his biological parents died young, he was raised by his stepmother, Lorraine. In 1870, after turning 18, he sets out for Omaha, Nebraska, with his horse, Ross, and no clear plans for the future. He soon lands a job as a German-English translator at a hospital and secures a second gig working for the police after doing some translation work for them on a case. He also becomes acquainted with the leadership of Omaha’s Chinatown; he becomes interested in learning the Chinese language, and he makes an offer to the Chinese leaders to teach English in exchange. This leads him to meet Mu Waun, a pretty, young teacher; they fall in love and plan to marry. Unfortunately, she and her family are called back to China to settle a dispute in their home village, and Edwin prepares for a long wait for her return. After he gets news that village violence has claimed Mu Waun’s life, he relocates to Utah to become a telegraph operator and station manager. Later, he receives word that Mu Waun may actually be alive, and he sets out on a journey across the ocean with two Chinese compatriots to rescue her. Patrick’s novel intriguingly uses the protagonist’s love of foreign languages to advance his career, social standing, and marriage prospects. His skills as a polyglot help him to foil train robberies, fend off foreign assassins, and join an insular Chinese community. As a result, the storytelling can be compelling; Edwin’s journey home from China is a particular standout. However, because the story covers so many decades of Edwin’s life, the final third of the novel loses steam and becomes somewhat cursory. An earlier ending would have better highlighted Edwin and Mu Waun’s travels and accomplishments.
A lively cross-cultural story about a rapidly expanding America, but it’s hindered by a weak third act.