Review of Heidi Heilig, “The Long Road”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 3-17 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).
Lihua and her parents have left behind everything they have ever known, heading west in hopes of finding the Place of No Return — and then going even further. It’s all Lihua’s fault: If she hadn’t received her diagnosis, if she hadn’t gotten sick, they could have remained in Xi’an. All she has to protect her against illness are the amulets given to her by family, friends, the man she would have married, and at times it feels like they are more a burden than a help.
The setting of this story is the camel train from Xi’an to Persia, with all the sweat, muck, camel dung, pomegranates, and continual search for water that you’d expect. Heilig uses small details to great effect, drawing a rich, full picture. We aren’t given details about the nature of Lihua’s illness, but that just makes it possible for many different speculations to be born out by the events. In the end, it’s not the diagnosis, nor the treatment, that matters: It is who Lihua meets on her journey, and what she learned from them. This was a lovely story to start off the anthology with.