“A woman of forty-seven who has been married twenty-seven years and has six children knows what love really is and once described it for me like this: ‘Love is what you have been through with somebody.'” James Thurber
The publishing industry floods us with romantic fiction. Hollywood movies too, are so often either thrillers or romantic comedies. These matchmaking novels and movies entertain us and have the additional value of showing us whether or not two individuals are well-suited, though sometimes I feel compelled to yell at the protagonist in frustration: “He’s not the right one! Don’t choose him!”
Match making is a fairly harmless natural instinct. It’s even possible to find novels in this genre that avoid descriptions of sexual encounters which is where my my personal moral bar is set. My complaint is that the stories are so one-dimensional and only take us on the attraction journey between people. It can easily become a mono diet of romance that ends only in a wedding ceremony. I need more than that. I need answers to the question of how do I live in love for a lifetime with one flawed person? Or on the flip side, how does my spouse live with my immaturity and shortcomings? Deeper romance books are helpful too, for young people waiting to make the decision to marry, and the many who have been married and divorced.
I believe the novel City of Tranquil Light offers an answer. The author, Bo Caldwell, researched the history of her grandparents’ lives as missionaries in China that gives this story a wonderful realism. Poignantly, Caldwell describes China in the 1920s and the resultant suffering as the Communists defeat the Imperial government. Along with their Chinese friends, the missionary couple of the story endures this troubled period in an ancient and beautiful land. The opening chapters detail the couple’s initial meeting, but the majority of the book takes place as they walk out their married life together. Author Bo Caldwell documents a tender, enduring love between Katherine and Will in adversity.
I gave this novel to my reading club friend April, to test out if it was “bloggable” Putting into words why she loved it, April wrote: “I loved this book because I was drawn to the story of this couple following God’s call on their life. Even though they experienced many hardships, and the personal cost was great for them, they didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. Their obedience to God and their love for each other and the people and country of China was very inspiring.”
The Kiehn’s married relationship echoes the marriage vows so many of us are familiar with “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death”. p 427 Book of Common Prayer. (BCP) Less well-known are the powerful words in the BCP which describe the purpose of marriage: “The union of husband and wife in heart, mind, and body is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” p 423.
If we remove for a moment the consuming occupation of nurturing our children, a deeper layer of bonding in marriage becomes more visible: a shared mission. In the case of Katherine and Will Kiehn, each individually goes to China to serve as a missionary. They meet and marry “on the mission field”. Serving as missionaries together as a married couple certainly isn’t the only way to share a “mission”. Katherine and Will, by the way, have very different abilities and gifts which they exercise while in China. In our case, my husband is a skilled family and marriage therapist and an athlete. I am a writer, homeschool teacher and women’s group leader. But we share the same mission to show others the reality of a loving God.
So put aside the other type of romantic novels, and check out City of Tranquil Light
Many novels depict interesting married couples including:
Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Strong Poison, Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers – four of her mysteries recount the courtship and marriage of Lord Peter and Harriet.
Father Tim and Cynthia, At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window and the other “Mitford” novels by Jan Karon
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. King has written twelve novels that showcase their partnership to solve crimes and bring the guilty to justice.
Benjamin January and Rose, A Free Man of Color and other novels by Barbara Hambly – a fascinating mystery series set in New Orleans in the 1830s.