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Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill

Ursula Under (original 2004; edition 2006)

by Ingrid Hill

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4521223,073 (3.7)54
Title:Ursula Under
Authors:Ingrid Hill
Info:Vintage (2006), Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Your library, General Fiction
Tags:Fiction, fantasy, Orange Prize Longlist; given away

Work details

Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill (2004)

Recently added byAthenais, private library, celerydog, diana.n, Tracyspaulding, JulieRheault



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This book is really the story of a little girl who falls into an abandoned mineshaft. But then the author goes into telling stories of the girl's ancestors. The whole thing combines to make you feel like you're lucky to be who you are. What if your grandmother had never met your grandfather? That kind of thing. But it's really a big, wonderful book that sort of makes you appreciate life. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
Similar to THE GARGOYLE, not in the writing style or content, but in the format. URSULA, UNDER alternates between a chapter in the present and a chapter in the past, focusing on the ancestors of Ursula's parents, Justin (who is Chinese-American) and Annie (Finnish-American). So, like THE GARGOYLE, there are many stories in one, but they are tied together more neatly. Ingrid Hill is a wonderful writer. ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
Warning: This review contains the spoiler the author gives in the book.

This didn't work for me. Each of the historical chapters would have needed a lot more research to really come to life. Even the modern characters were flat. And to top it all off, the author herself tells you before the rescue that Ursula is going to survive, destroying what little suspense she had built up to that point. ( )
1 vote MarthaJeanne | Sep 25, 2011 |
I came to this book with preconceptions and walked away so happy I read this family saga. The textures of history and human existence come together in unexpected ways, leaving us to question exactly where we came from. I won't reveal any of the plot, for to tell too much would spoil the essence of the experience. Ingrid Hill has written a beautiful and evocative work; her achievement is a foil for all those other historical novels who try to be this good but fall short. ( )
  sonyau | Jul 14, 2009 |
Ursula,Under is an odd yet beautifully written book. It begins by introducing little Ursula, age two. Her mother, who was crippled in a hit-and-run accident as a young girl, wasn't supposed to be able to have children. Her father, of mixed Chinese descent, adores his little girl and vows to do a better job than his own father, who abandoned his family when he was a toddler. Then, on a visit to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, the unthinkable happens - Ursula, laughing and happy, runs across a field and vanishes into a concealed mine shaft. This is where the story takes an unconventional turn. Instead of proceeding directly with the tense rescue - or recovery - of Ursula, the story jumps back 2,000 years to a Chinese ancestor of Ursula, an alchemist. Every other chapter follows this pattern - the rescue and the background of Ursula's parents, and then a drop into the distant past of Finland or China, and eventually, the United States.

The heart of this story is an affirmation of genealogy: we only exist because of the whim of procreation over successive generations, and even though facts and names have been lost, we still carry on their legacy. The historical fiction parts of the novel were delightful because they covered territory that most other novelists ignore, and show how the birth of a child means different things to different people across the ages. Hill's writing is phenomenal and poetic. My one complaint is that the novel is heavily stream-of-consciousness and goes off on various tangents; whereas the approach seems realistic, it becomes tedious in the context of a novel, especially when whip-lashed between several different character and an omnipotent narrator who describes some events that don't even happen because of a character's death. (There is one passing reference that a father, had he lived, would have molested his daughter at exactly 4 years and 2 months of age. However, the father died before the child was even born.)

I enjoyed the book because the concept and the quality outweighed the sometimes-annoying stream-of-consciousness technique. It should be of particular interest to those who love genealogy and wonder about the whims of their own existence. ( )
2 vote ladycato | Feb 9, 2009 |
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For James Hill, with all my heart
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On a crystalline, perfectly blue morning in June, after a day of angry pewter skies and of sheeting, driving rain, we enter our story.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143035452, Paperback)

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a dangerous rescue effort draws the ears and eyes of the entire country. A two-and-a-half-year-old girl has fallen down a mine shaft—"the only sound is an astonished tiny intake of breath from Ursula as she goes down, like a penny into the slot of a bank, disappeared, gone." It is as if all hope for life on the planet is bound up in the rescue of this little girl, the first and only child of a young woman of Finnish extraction and her Chinese-American husband. One TV viewer following the action notes that the Wong family lives in a decrepit mobile home and wonders why all this time and money is being "wasted on that half-breed trailer-trash kid."

In response, the novel takes a breathtaking leap back in time to visit Ursula's most remarkable ancestors: a third-century-B.C. Chinese alchemist; an orphaned playmate of a seventeenth-century Swedish queen; Professor Alabaster Wong, a Chautauqua troupe lecturer (on exotic Chinese topics) traveling the Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century; her great-great-grandfather Jake Maki, who died at twenty-nine in a Michigan iron mine cave-in; and others whose richness and history are contained in the induplicable DNA of just one person—little Ursula Wong.

Ursula's story echoes those of her ancestors, many of whom so narrowly escaped not being born that her very existence—like ours—comes to seem a miracle. Ambitious and accomplished, Ursula, Under is, most of all, wonderfully entertaining—a daring saga of culture, history, and heredity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When Ursula falls down a mine shaft, her rescue captures the imagination of the American TV audience. What they don't realise is the amazing story of her ancestors, Ursula being descended from 16th-century Swedish queen and a second-century B.C. Chinese alchemist, whose lives mirror Ursula's own.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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