Readers of Canadian historical fiction and romance will find much to love about A Heart To Survive. Based on the true story of a young Canadian woman who fell in love with a Chinese man in the 1950s, it probes the events of an interracial romance in a country that hardly ever receives close inspection of racial relationships from American readers.
The story opens in December 1949 in Hangzhou, China. Tao Wen Shun is sent to the docks to pick up a package for his grandfather, who crafts musical instruments. He barely makes it home after stumbling into a military confrontation between forces supporting Mao and Chiang Kai-shek, and he and his wise grandfather share a sixth sense that everything they know is on the cusp of change: “What you saw today was people losing their peace. Always remember that we add a few paint strokes to our life’s work each day. The work we undertake and the relationships we build are expressions of our character.”
As events lead Wen Shun away from his beloved home to a foreign land, he holds these words of wisdom close to his heart as he encounters the promise of freedom against the realities of racial repression in Canada: “You don’t understand what it’s like here. Most Canadians treat us as lower-class citizens. We were brought here as laborers for the railroads, mines, laundries, and restaurants. Whites hated us because we worked for wages they wouldn’t accept, and they couldn’t find other jobs. That’s still the case now, and we’re kept in poverty.”
There's romance...dangerous romance...blossoming alongside forces of repression and change, and Wen Shun (now 'Winson') finds himself buffeted on many sides as he makes difficult choices and finds the foundations of safety and love to be fluid and unreliable.
All the elements are here for an extraordinary read that blends a coming-of-age experience with a window into Canadian culture, race relations of the 1950s, romance, and a young immigrant's ability to persevere against all odds.
Most of all, A Heart To Survive chronicles the kinds of choices that lead into danger and opportunity alike, adding a dash of thriller and mystery elements into the mix to create a multifaceted story that is engaging, engrossing, and hard to put down.
Historical fiction readers, particularly those interested in Canadian backdrops, are in for a treat. The story opens the Collingwood series with questions of immigrant experience, paradigm-changing social and political currents, and the lessons passed down between generations which allow people to survive changed and unpredictable circumstances.