The sprawling, multigenerational debut novel by Ingrid Hill deftly arcs back and forth between past and present to explore the hidden connections in our lives and the fragility of human life. When two-year-old Ursula Wong falls into an abandoned mine shaft, a community is galvanized in a dangerous rescue effort that has far greater significance than anyone present can possibly imagine.
As the only child of a woman of Finnish descent and her Chinese-American husband, Ursula is the modern-day culmination of the dreams and struggles of two disparate lineages. Ursula's birth was nothing short of a miracle, given the crippling pelvic injuries her mother sustained in a childhood accident. But in one horrible instant, the gift of Ursula's life is almost extinguished as arbitrarily as it was granted. While Ursula's fate hangs in the balance, we travel back in time to trace the extraordinary lives of her ancestors, many of whom also came into being against incredible odds. We encounter a Chinese alchemist in second-century B.C. who fathers a child at age 79, a 16th-century Finnish widow who bravely escapes a leper colony to go in search of her orphaned son, and a host of immigrants struggling for a better life in America, including Ursula's great-grandfather, who dies in a mining accident eerily presaging her own fall. Each of these links in the chain of Ursula's genetic lineage is bound together by countless little twists of fate to which her own existence is tied.
The great beauty of this novel lies in the hauntingly resonant voices of Ursula's ancestors and the author's skillful weaving of their individual stories into an integrated family history spanning 2,000 years. This vast and prismatic narrative technique shows us that life, indeed, is a miracle, and that history is alive, embodied in the individual triumphs and tragedies that make up the collective human experience. A powerful meditation on origins, Ursula, Under poetically demonstrates how centuries-old connections can reverberate into the present.