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Title: Red Runs the River
Author: Anthony G. Bollback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: Pleasant Word 2004
ISBN: 1-4141-0110-4
Reviewer: Rebecca Livermore

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In Red Runs the River, Bollback paints a vivid and powerful picture of the love between Meiling, the private high school principal's daughter, and Anching, a poor factory worker's son who is only able to attend the prestigious school through a scholarship.

The story is set in China, beginning in 1949, the year that Mao Zedong came into power and put policies in place that resulted in a river that ran red with the blood of the saints.

Meiling and Anching's love begins to grow, and they both become believers in Jesus. Their various family members also make the decision to follow Christ and trouble soon follows.

Meiling, Anching, and their families all suffer as a result of Communism. For instance, Anching is forced into military service and shipped off with an uncertain future. He and Meiling don't know if they will ever see each other again, but make a commitment to wait for each other, and do whatever it takes to be reunited. Meiling's father is humiliated publicly, and sent to labor in the coal mines in conditions that are only bearable due to the love for his Savior and the sweet fellowship of another believer. With the loss of her father's income, Meiling, a once privileged girl, finds it necessary to find work in a local hospital where she is ordered to do menial duties such as cleaning bedpans and washing dirty laundry.

As an attractive young woman, Meiling catches the eye of the hospital administrator and is subjected to unwanted sexual advances. She steadfastly refuses to give in to his demands in spite of the fact that such refusal could result in humiliation, beating and even death. God delivers her not once, but twice in miraculous ways. But her troubles continued. Through it all, the Lord was always near to her.

Although a work of fiction, Red Runs the River is more than a figment of the author's imagination. Anthony G. Bollback, a former Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary was himself forced to evacuate China at the time of the Communist takeover in 1949. He returned to work with the Chinese people in Hong Kong from 1957-1970 where he had the opportunity to hear firsthand reports from the thousands of believers who suffered for the sake of Christ.

In the introduction Bollback writes, "As I prayed about writing this story, God led me to weave the authentic reports of persecution into a fictional story of two young people who suffered the intense sting of persecution and many years of forced separation." He went on to say, "Because of the underlying truth of each fictional episode, Red Runs the River is much more than fiction. It is the story of heroic followers of Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price for their love and devotion to Him."

Red Runs the River is quite unpredictable. For instance, sometimes God miraculously delivered people and other times they were beaten so severely they died. The use of cliches and a tendency to "tell rather than show" at times weakened the story, but the story itself is so compelling, that its power wasn't lost. Many times throughout the book I was moved to reach for a tissue or spend some time in prayer and reflection. At times the book was disturbing, but a story of humiliation, torture, and at times death should be disturbing. In all cases, the accounts of persecution were handled in a sensitive, God-honoring way, with an appropriate amount of detail.

Although the book certainly contains some romantic elements, the story goes far deeper than the love between a man and a woman. The underlying theme of the book is the great love the people of China have for their Savior, and their willingness to suffer tremendous hardship, humiliation, and in some cases even death as a result of their love and commitment to Him.

At the end of the story, Meiling and Anching have still not been reunited, but the story continues in Volume 2, Exiles of Hope.

If you're looking for a book to encourage your faith, touch your heart, and challenge you to go deeper in your love for Christ, this book is for you!