A Certain Smile

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Bestselling author Judith Michael brings together the magic of East and West in a tale of heartwrenching love as vivid and breathless as the pounding energy of exotic Beijing. In a story replete with passion and enduring desire, A CERTAIN SMILE affirms that love has no borders. . . .

An American clothing designer and widowed mother of two teenagers, Miranda Graham arrives in China and is immediately overwhelmed by life in this faraway place. ...
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Bestselling author Judith Michael brings together the magic of East and West in a tale of heartwrenching love as vivid and breathless as the pounding energy of exotic Beijing. In a story replete with passion and enduring desire, A CERTAIN SMILE affirms that love has no borders. . . .

An American clothing designer and widowed mother of two teenagers, Miranda Graham arrives in China and is immediately overwhelmed by life in this faraway place. Then she meets Yuan Li, son of an American soldier and Chinese mother—and suddenly two worlds, two cultures, and two hearts collide. As Miranda bravely explores vistas beyond the safe, ordered limits of her own life, she is inexorably drawn to Yuan, a man who embodies all the hardship, dignity, and mystery of China. Their love is an unexpected awakening of body, mind, and spirit—even as the intrusive government and Yuan's ambitious son threaten their newfound joy, propelling them toward the most shattering choice two lovers can make.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Michael is the pseudonym of a husband-and-wife team with a string of best sellers to their credit Acts of Love. They have set their latest romantic effort in the turbulent and fascinating world of contemporary China. Miranda has moved there to work with a clothing firm manufacturing some of her fashion designs. At the airport, she meets a quiet and gracious man named Li and shares a taxi to her hotel. Over the course of a few deliciously detailed dinners and sightseeing afternoons, they form a tentative friendship that grows into a caring love affair between two mature adults who have suffered their share of disappointment and pain. As in every traditional love story, their relationship hits a few obstacles, including the vehement objections of Lis son, a man with business and political problems of his own. Although there is certainly nothing new here, this slow-paced, melancholy love poem is an appealing tale of two very different people who find soulmates in each other.
— Margaret Ann Hanes, Sterling Heights Public Library, MI
Kirkus Reviews
A Summertime-like romance between older lovers, set in modern-day China, from perennial bestseller Michael (Acts of Love, 1997, etc.). Novice designer Miranda Graham, 40, has come to Beijing from Boulder, Colorado, to discuss the production of her cashmere clothing with Chinese manufacturers. As she waits for a cab in the shoving airport crowd, she's rescued by Yuan Li, 55, the head of an important construction company who has come to see off a friend. Overcoming Miranda's reserve (and honoring the venerable tradition of overseas romances doubling as travelogues), half-American Li spends a week showing her around Beijing, introducing Miranda (and the reader) to contemporary Chinese life and a mouthwatering feast of its cuisine. The two draw closer, cook a meal together at Li's courtyard house in Beijing, and finally consummate their love at a hotel in Xi'an, where they have gone to see the 6,000 terra-cotta warriors built for the tomb of the first Emperor. But the villainous Chinese state security bureau complicates their wonderful relationship. It views Miranda as a courier of "subversive" literature because she agreed to deliver a letter to the parents of a Boulder acquaintance, and her lover is under suspicion as a result of their affair. Used to such scrutiny, Li carries on as if it were not there. But Miranda decides she can't live in such a society, and Li decides he can't go to America. Instead of continuing an enriching international relationship, which would not be too difficult since Miranda begins a partnership with an older Chinese designer, the pair decide to part forever, keeping their memories and that "certain smile" of perfect love. Besides the excellent food, theauthors create believable conversations between intelligent people, a rarity in romance fiction. But after a humdinger of a first half, the ending seems forced. (Doubleday Book Club main selection; Literary Guild selection; ad/promo)
From the Publisher
"[A] LOVE POEM . . . An appealing tale of two very different people who find soulmates in each other. Recommended."
--Library Journal


From the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375706783
  • Publisher: Diversified Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/11/1999
  • Edition description: Large Type
  • Pages: 462
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Michael is the pseudonym of a husband and wife writing team based in Chicago. All of their novels have been New York Times bestsellers, including Acts of Love and the latest, A Certain Smile.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1

Miranda Graham and Yuan Li met in the Beijing airport when he appeared out of nowhere to rescue her from the shoving, elbowing crowds buffeting her on all sides. She was stuck in the taxi line just outside the terminal, pinned there while others thrust in front of her, indifferently pushing and knocking against her as she struggled to stay close to her suitcase. Assaulted by the high-pitched, incessant din, she shrank from the press of strange bodies, feeling helpless and suddenly afraid.

This can't be happening; I'm in one of the world's biggest airports; there's nothing to he afraid of no one is going to hurt me.

But they don't like Americans and nobody smiles or gives me any space... they walk right into me, as if they want to knock me down...

She knew that was ridiculous, but she felt threatened and alone, and she had not moved an inch in ten minutes. I could be here all night, she thought, and never get to my hotel. I've got to do something; what do people do to get anywhere in this country?

And that was when Li appeared, standing out from the crowd, taller than those around him, coming close to put a hand on her shoulder. Alarmed, she jerked from his touch, but there was no place to move, and so she shrank into herself, tucking her head away from him.

"Please, let me help you," he said, and she was so astonished to hear English, clear and perfect, that she straightened up, staring at him. He was smiling. "At this rate, you'll be here all night, and never get to your hotel." Her eyes widened in surprise, but he did not notice; he had hung her garment bag over his arm and was bending to pick up her suitcase. Then,holding her arm and using his body like a wedge, he plowed through the crowd. As it melted before him, he grinned at her, like a small boy triumphant over obstructive adults. "You simply pretend they are not there. It is the only way to survive in China. And now," he said as they reached a taxi at the head of the line, "I will accompany you to the city, to make sure you reach your hotel."

"Oh, no. No." The thought of getting into a car with a foreigner was almost as terrifying as the crowds had been. "Thank you for helping me, you've been very kind, but I can manage; I have the name of my hotel written in Chinese.. the driver can read it.. I'll be just fine."

He nodded. "I will not push myself upon you if you insist, but I've found that it is always good to have help when you make a beginning in a strange place." The driver had stowed Miranda's suitcase and garment bag, and was gazing phlegmatically at the impatient customers waiting for the next taxi. "I am going into the city anyway," Li said. "It won't be off of my way to do this."

"Out of," she corrected automatically. "It won't be out of your way." Perhaps it was his small mistake in English that made her feel less intimidated, or perhaps the exhaustion of twenty-two hours of travel, but finally it just seemed simpler to give in and get in the taxi with him.

Sitting beside her, he took a tiny cellular phone from his pocket and spoke briefly into it in Chinese. Folding it with a sharp snap, he returned it to his pocket, and settled back beside Miranda.

Cringing again, she shrank into the corner of the back seat, pushing herself against the cracked leather, telling herself that she was a fool. She knew nothing about this man, not even his name. What if he and the taxi driver were a team? Maybe they did this all the time: kidnapped women traveling alone, and killed them if a ransom were not paid, or paid quickly enough. Probably he had just made arrangements on the telephone with some cohorts, lying in wait. Why hadn't she thought of that before?

"My name is Yuan Li," he said, and smiled, a warm, open smile that Miranda would swear had no ulterior motive. He held out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you.

"Miranda Graham." She gave him a quick glance as her hand came up to meet his. He had a nice face, and his handshake was firm and brief. "Thank you again for rescuing me."

"I was pleased that I could help."

Involuntarily, her glance went to his pocket, where his cellular phone lay hidden.

"I called my driver," he said briefly, "to tell him to take my car home."

She nodded, embarrassed that she was so transparent, embarrassed that she felt so relieved, embarrassed at being so inexperienced.

But she was not a traveler. Until now, except for brief trips concentrating only on business, she had never turned a gaze of curiosity and adventure outward from her home: the leafy college town of Boulder, tucked into the Colorado foothills, where everything was familiar. Now, unbelievably, she was on the other side of the world, in a city where she knew no one, where she could not understand a word the people were saying. "Impossible," she murmured as the taxi passed an incomprehensible highway sign. "I won't be able to make sense of billboards or street names, stores, menus—"

"But in many places you can," Li said. "hotel restaurants have menus in English. Street signs are spelled out in your alphabet, so you can find your way around with a map. And in areas popular with tourists, you will find store clerks and waiters who speak English, often quite well."

She flushed with shame. She was an American citizen on a business trip; she should never let anyone know that she felt helpless. "I'll be all right," she said coolly.

"I'm sure you will." His smile seemed tolerant of her inexperience, and in an instant she disliked him. He had seemed pleasant, but everyone knew that foreigners, especially Asians, were usually untrustworthy. I don't need him, she thought, or anybody else in China. I don't have time for friends, anyway; I only have eight days here. I'll be busy every minute, and then I'll be gone. She watched lighted windows flash past in block after block of identical five-story concrete apartment buildings. Soon, the windows became larger, giving fleeting glimpses into apartments in newer buildings, until they gave way to skyscrapers, to a strange amalgam of modern office buildings towering over squat, darkened structures that looked liked relics of another time. And then, suddenly, in a narrow, crowded street, they stopped at her hotel.

It was named the Palace, hinting at fairytale romances and heroes and heroines, but in fact it was sleek, modern and anonymous, with a spacious lobby displaying the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune on tables and newspaper racks, a tuxedoed staff speaking impeccable English, a swimming pool and health club, two nightclubs and a restaurant. I could almost be in America, Miranda thought, and immediately felt better.

And better still when Li said goodbye in front of the hotel, and drove off in the taxi they had shared. He had been so casual that she had felt a moment of pique, but then she remembered that she was glad to be rid of him, and a moment later, dealing with the bellhop, and registering, and making sure her luggage got upstairs, she forgot him completely.

In her suite, she turned slowly in place, awed at its elegance. The draperies were of heavy silk doubly and triply embroidered in many-colored threads; the chairs and sofa in the sitting room were rosewood with silk cushions; a rosewood breakfront filled one wall, its shelves arranged with translucent porcelain vases and a celadon tea set. The wide bed was covered with a silk spread appliquéd with lotus flowers, and on the lower shelves of the rosewood nightstands were slippers with padded soles and a strip of beautiful woven paper across the instep. Porcelain table lamps cast soft light on the patterned carpet, and the bed had been turned down for the night. Miranda took it all in, then, lightheaded from fatigue and new sensations, she pulled her nightgown from her suitcase and slipped into bed. It was eleven o'clock on a late September night in Beijing, China, and in five minutes she was asleep.

From the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2001

    Loved It!

    I really loved this latest book by Judith Michael. I have read all of their previous novels, and some have been merely good, but most of them I love. A Certain Smile was excellent. The interracial romance intrigued me, as did the lyrical descriptions of Beijing, the big role that food played in the book, and the educational bits about the Cultural Revolution. I highly recommend this!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2000

    Please tell me that there will be a sequel!

    I loved the book! The descriptions of China were educational. I liked the way the authors addressed prejudices, conscious and unconscious. Americans are arrogant, and it is good to hear other perspectives (assuming they were accurate). But, Please tell me there will be a sequel!! There is so much material to work with in this book to set up a continuation. I do not want it to end like this. Call me a romantic, but the world is too small today to not leave room for them to go forward together.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2000

    Very Disappointing

    I waited it seems like forever for another Judith Michael book to come out. A friend and I have read every book they've ever written. After waiting an eternity, this book was so very disappointing. It was so difficult to finish. I passed it on to my friend. She asked how I liked it and it's the first time I told her I would refrain from comment and wait for her opinion, (I didn't want to influence her opinion). She called me several days later and stated she didn't like it. Judith Michael is a terrific writing team, and so many times I have had to make myself put the book down and get some sleep. I'm still waiting for that next book. Hopefully, they have learned from this one.

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