Novel by Peterson ’85 Explores Turmoil in 1950s Tibet

Jeanne Peterson ’85

Jeanne Peterson ’85 has written a new novel, Falling to Heaven (St. Martin’s Press), the story of two American Quakers who trek into Tibet in 1954.

In this work of historical fiction, Emma and Gerald Kittredge leave their secure Quaker community and travel to the Tibetan city of Shigatse where they soon find companionship with their neighbors, Dorje and Rinchen, and their small family. But the arrival of Maoist soldiers shatters these characters’ quiet life. Gerald is captured by the soldiers, leaving a pregnant Emma facing an agonizing decision: flee Tibet or stay and risk imprisonment herself. Dorje and Rinchen are her only allies, but their lives are also thrown into turmoil when their son abandons the sanctuary of his monastery to fight in the resistance. Told in three distinct voices rich in their respective spiritual traditions, Peterson’s novel is ultimately about losing and rediscovering faith.

Book by Jeanne Peterson ’85

When asked how she came to write Falling to Heaven, Peterson responded:

“I can only say that the book first came out of the creative ether. By this I mean that the seed for the book came out of my pen one day as I was free-writing. I was rather astonished by what emerged, because I’d had no plans to write a piece of historical fiction about the invasion of Tibet by the communist Chinese! Although I hadn’t planned to write the story when I began, the story was certainly shaped by my years of experience working as a psychologist with survivors of torture and communist reeducation from various parts of Asia, which gave me an unusually intimate knowledge of both torture methods and the trauma they cause. After my initial realization of what the story might be, I began to research Tibet and Chinese communism assiduously, and the historical research then provided the plot elements that make the story authentic.”

Peterson is a clinical psychologist who worked for years with survivors of torture and communist reeducation from all over Asia. In her free time she facilitates an advanced writing group in San Diego, Calif. where she lives with her two sons.

David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: