My enormous thanks to Ella Bowman at Headline for a copy of In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca MacKenzie in return for an honest review. In a Land of Paper Gods is published in hardback and e-book by Tinder Press on 28th January 2016 and is available to purchase here in the UK and here in the US.
In A Land of Paper Gods
Jiangxi Province, China, 1941
Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China’s most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own.
Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord’s intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls’ quest takes on a new urgency – and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta’s pilgrimage begins.
A story of a child far from home and caught between two cultures, In A Land of Paper Gods marries exuberant imagination with sharp pathos, and introduces Rebecca Mackenzie as a striking and original new voice.
My Review of In A Land of Paper Gods
Henrietta (Etta) S. Robertson is sent to Lushan, a private school for the children of missionaries in China. Here Etta will learn what it is that makes us who we are.
I’m astounded by In a Land of Paper Gods. I found that I didn’t really read the book as much as absorb it and experience it. Beautifully written, the descriptions are so evocative that I could picture each so clearly. Rebecca MacKenzie has a perfect eye for detail from a hair like a crack in a washbasin to the stench of rotting flesh. I was there in the settings, not merely reading about them.
Alongside the vivid nature of the descriptions and settings is a multi-layered text so that it is part allegory, part dream state, part diary, part history and part travelogue. In a Land of Paper Gods is also an emotional coming of age story that we live with Etta as she recounts her experiences. The pain of growing up is laid bare and there is an intensity of sadness that will remain with me for a long time. There are also deft touches of humour.
I don’t wish to spoil the plot, but, set against a true historical background, In a Land of Paper Gods brings the personal and individual side of world events into sharp and sometimes shocking focus.
Although this is a debut novel, for me there wasn’t a word out of place. I found the writing evocative and haunting so that it was almost hypnotic. I was surprised to find tears running down my face as I was so absorbed by the experience of reading. I loved it.
In a Land of Paper Gods is the kind of book that sings to your soul as Etta expands and grows as a character. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.
You can find out more about Rebecca MacKenzie and In a Land of Paper Gods on Rebecca’s web site.