Picks and Pans Review: The Call

updated 06/10/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/10/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Hersey

This long, engrossing novel by the author of The Wall, A Bell for Adano and Hiroshima is a detailed life of a missionary to China. David Treadup grows up in a village in upstate New York. His family is Methodist and religious, but it is only at college, where he is exposed to evangelist missionaries, that he decides that he has been called by God to serve in China. Hersey says in an afterword that the character of David Treadup is partly based on the lives of six actual missionaries to China, including his father. The novel in any event has the air of authenticity. Much consists of quotes from Treadup's diary, letters and a manuscript he calls the "Search." "My life seemed to be in my 'Search'—intrinsically worthless scribbling, perhaps, but at the moment, at least, I was overwhelmed by a conviction that I couldn't live without some tangible effort, even if unsuccessful, to comprehend the past." There is too much of almost everything in The Call—690 pages of small print—but the story begins to take on a life of its own at about page 100, when the hero comes alive. In addition to examining religion, history and China, this novel becomes a tender love story. Treadup is forced into a frantic search for a wife—the financial sponsors of his mission want him to be married—and although hastily chosen, she turns out to be the best thing in his life—more important eventually than his belief. Treadup learns Chinese and comes to understand much of their culture. He is sent to an internment camp by the Japanese during World War II, and it is there that Treadup questions the purpose of his life. Indeed, so thoughtful, powerful and convincing is this work that it can cause a reader to examine his own life. (Knopf, $19.95)

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