The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess

August’s book review is on The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess, first published in 1957.

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess
The Small Woman
by Alan Burgess

Recently, as I was thinking about movies our family had watched when the kids were at home, I remembered The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Wikipedia said the movie was based on the experiences of a real missionary named Gladys Aylward, so of course I had to read her biography, The Small Woman.

(Which makes me wonder if biographies attract us more when we’ve had more life experience. When I was younger, they seemed drier, maybe because I didn’t read any really good ones. But I digress.)

The Small Woman
Gladys Aylward, barely five feet tall, was a London parlor maid in her twenties who felt the call of God to become a missionary in China. Against the advice of the local missionary society, she put everything she had toward train fare and in 1930 traveled all by herself across Europe and Russia to China, where she finally connected with other missionaries. Sharing the Gospel meant she first had to learn Chinese, which she did wholeheartedly, just as she did everything else. As the villagers got to know her and saw her in action – feeding the poor, bandaging the sick, rescuing orphans, and speaking their own dialect – she gained their trust, and they listened to her Bible stories.

Every time I review a verse that I recently memorized, Miss Aylward comes to mind.

Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5 NIV)

Life was one challenge after another for Gladys Aylward. Ultimately, she along with the rest of China faced war. Her number one concern was saving nearly a hundred orphans, so she led them across the mountains, through hunger, cold, high waters, and enemy soldiers.

In a letter to her mother she wrote: “These are my people; God has given them to me; and I will live or die with them for Him and His glory.”

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Hollywood adapted The Small Woman into The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a movie that changed key points of her life. They miscast her tiny personage by giving the role to Ingrid Bergman, they renamed the Inn of Eight Happinesses, a number which is significant in Chinese culture, and they showed the orphans singing This Old Man instead of the beloved hymns they actually sang to keep up their strength. Our family loved the movie, nonetheless, for the adventure and the heartwarming story.
Note: Although the movie is rated PG, beware of a brief violent scene (off-camera) early in the film.

Who Would Like The Small Woman
If you’re interested in biographies, Chinese culture, and stories of rare commitment and courage, you might like The Small Woman. The author, Alan Burgess, tells the story with great skill and creativity. I love his writing.

Elizabeth Elliot, who heard Miss Aylward speak and had the opportunity to meet her, wrote the forward to The Small Woman, including these words:

“The indelible mark Gladys Aylward left in my memory is that of a very small package of Cockney dynamite, a woman who had made an irrevocable choice in that London flat: to believe that God meant exactly what he said, and to stake her life on it at any cost.”

Posted on August 4, 2015

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