Given that her November 30 lecture at St. Ambrose University is titled "Finding Faith & Fiction in China," it seems odd that author Bo Caldwell has never actually been to the country.
Once you know her story, though, the title of the lecture (being presented as part of the school's academic-year-long China Project) makes more sense. Caldwell might not have found faith and fiction in the physical China, but she did in a China that has disappeared - the place where her grandparents and uncle lived and worked in the first half of the 20th Century.
"I was writing about a China that was long ago," Caldwell explained in an interview last month. "And the country and the city of Shanghai have changed so dramatically. ... I didn't feel like it would help me that much to go there."
She added that "China has a connection in a home-like way. That's where my grandparents spent much of their lives. It's where my mom and her siblings grew up. Chinese things when I was a kid felt like home in a weird way."
The Distant Land of My Father was published in 2001 and follows the outline of her uncle's life in Shanghai - how he lost his wealth and almost his life during a tumultuous time. Last year's City of Tranquil Light is based on the experiences of her missionary grandparents in China.
That makes clear how Caldwell found fiction in China. But faith was a function of breast cancer and its treatment, both of which changed the nature of the book that would become City of Tranquil Light.