Pagoda Dreamer

A legacy of letters was the catalyst for this compelling biography of an American woman whose youth in China fostered an Asian perspective that shaped her liberal outlook on life, love and loss.

In 1900, while fleeing China’s murderous Boxer Rebellion, two-year-old Dorothy Rowe saved the lives of her missionary parents. It was the first of many remarkable acts of survival in Asia and her later life in America. Her inspiring spirit is preserved in every word of this unforgettable book.

Early on, Dorothy, aka Doré, rejected the concept of converting people from their ancient faiths and embraced a fatalistic view of life. And, long before it was fashionable, she chafed against the constraints placed on women in her day. Following college in America, she returned to Nanking, where she taught school and began her writing career. A keen observer of human nature and a colorful writer, she published poetry and four books for children about her homeland of China. Her talent with words also enriched her letters. For almost fifty years, she wrote to a beloved sister about her yearning for romance and travel, her ideas on relationships and parenting, her worries, her sorrows, and her rapture. Excerpts from her candid letters are used in this telling of her powerful story, which is illustrated with period photographs. Selected poems also appear throughout the book and in an appendix.

Marriage to Benjamin F. March, an authority on Asian Art, brought Doré to Detroit. There, despite a scandalous love affair, she was admired as an exotic hostess and author. When Mr. March joined the faculty of the University of Michigan, the couple settled in Ann Arbor. Following her husband’s early death, Doré joined the staff of the university’s Department of the History of Art, where for nearly 30 years she enjoyed the respect and affection of faculty and students.

While raising a daughter alone, enduring a life-threatening battle with tuberculosis and further loss, Doré attracted others with her courage, her lack of bitterness, her humor, and her zest for life. A summer home in the resort village of Pentwater, on the shore of Lake Michigan, was her refuge as she continued to dream of returning to China.

Through rich verbal images and graceful prose, the author brings Doré’s spellbinding story to life.