Lost in Translation

Author’s Note

This is a work of fiction. It includes references to real people and events, which are used to give the fiction a historical reality. In particular, although many of the facts concerning Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan are accurate and the quotations from their letters come directly from published sources, their lives are used fictitiously in this work. Names, characters, and incidents relating to nonhistorical figures are the product of the author’s imagination. Please see the Historical Note for more information.

Material from the following sources has been reprinted by permission:

The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Copyright 1955 by Editions de Seuil. Copyright © 1959 in the English translation by William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, and Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., New York. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. © Editions de Seuil, 1951. Reprinted by permission.

"As the sun rose over the mountain..." reprinted by permission of Philomel Books from Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes, selected and edited by Robert Wyndham, © 1968 by Robert Wyndham. Brief segments have also been quoted from the following works:

Letters From a Traveller, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Copyright © 1962 in the English translation by William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, and Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., New York.

Letters to Léontine Zanta, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the English translation by William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, and Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., New York, 1969.

The Letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan, Thomas M. King and Mary Wood Gilbert, editors. Copyright © 1993 by Mary Wood Gilbert.

Since the inner face of the world is manifest deep within our human consciousness, and there reflects upon itself, it would seem that we have only got to look at ourselves in order to understand the dynamic relationships existing between the within and the without of things at a given point in the universe.

In fact so to do is one of the most difficult of all things.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin The Phenomenon of Man


In the lobby of the Minzu Hotel, Second Night Clerk Huang glanced out through the great glass doors just as the foreign interpreter wheeled her bicycle past. He stared, fascinated. He knew what it meant when she left, late at night, wearing a short skirt. There were no secrets in China. He smiled and turned back to his computer.

Outside, Alice Mannegan pedaled down Changan Dajie. She flew past the cobbled sidewalks, the storefronts crowded with Chinese paizi, signboards in arty, propulsive italic characters: Happy Fortune and Flying Crane and Propitious Wind. Knives and shoes and beauty supplies, bicycle parts and baling wire, all screaming for attention.

But their metal shutters had clanged down for the night. The black-headed crowd was gone. In daytime the boulevard throbbed with renao life, but now the bubbling volcano of Pekingese and frantically jingling bike bells was silent. It still smelled like Beijing, though. The air was ripe, opulent, sewerish—and thick with history.

Beyond the low row of storefronts she glimpsed the squat, massive official buildings—the institutes and bureaus and administrations which lined the boulevard. Changan was the main spoke of Beijing’s wheel. Broad and straight, built for parades, it roared right to the heart of the capital, and of all China, the Forbidden City. The Danei, people used to call it. The Great Within. And now there it was: the massive ocher bulwarks, the medieval walls, closed, faceless; all qi pointing inward, to what was concealed, powerful, and endlessly complex. Its entrance was crowned with the huge red-cheeked portrait of Chairman Mao, smiling down from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

Alice turned, skirting Tiananmen Square. A breeze rustled leaves above her head and sent an empty fast-food container skipping across the pavement. She glanced right and left at the sound. No one.

She pedaled harder, the summer night wind silky on her face. Past the great stone Qianmen arch, then south on Qianmen Boulevard into the old Chinese City with its riot of shops, restaurants, theaters. She veered off the boulevard, through the tangle of narrow hutongs. She loved this ancient maze of dirt-packed lanes. To her this was the true heart of the capital, not the colossal high-walled palace behind her. Here in the gracefully repeating pattern of silvery stone walls and tile roofs, Alice sometimes felt China in her grasp. Sometimes. She turned again, right, then left. Now she crossed the familiar intersection, with the old capped-over stone well in the