Few possibilities terrify parents more than the kidnapping of a child. Guilt, grief, helplessness, anger, and immobilizing fear mingle to create an emotional stew with a mix of ingredients that varies just enough from person to person to reveal the cracks in once-solid relationships, leaving individuals struggling alone—and often against each other. If the parents are, in addition, early twentieth-century missionaries in a great and ancient land hidden from them as much by their own cultural arrogance and misperceptions as by the unfamiliarity of the terrain, such a crisis raises additional questions: Has my God forsaken me? Have I sinned against Him? Is the husband I considered the master of my soul capable of guidance, or does he in fact require my assistance to find his way home?
Virginia Pye in her luminous debut novel, River of Dust (Unbridled Books, 2013), explores these questions and more through the reactions of Grace Watson and her husband, the Reverend John Wesley Watson, to the abduction of their son by Mongolian nomads in northwest China in 1910. Grace and her husband are committed to their separate missions—he to converting the Chinese to Christianity, and she to supporting him. Yet the prejudices of their time and station bind them, even as their differing responses to the loss of Wesley drive them apart—until, in a dusty, drought-ridden land as barren as their lives have become, Grace finds the courage to change.