Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Different Sun : What She Read Review

Find it at your local bookseller,
Indiebound, or Amazon.
Fancy an armchair trip to West Africa in the 1840's with the wife of a charismatic American missionary, do you?

Then do sit down with a warm cup of tea for a long, leisurely read:  A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr will more than satisfy your requirements.

And whether or not high interest, high style novels of Yorubaland in the 19th century are your daily fare (and they certainly aren't mine!), I recommend that you give A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr a try, especially if you can find the time to read it in one or two sittings. I'm pleased to have done so, as this novel had me recalling both Achebe's classic Things Fall Apart and Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.  

Although I've recently read plenty of non-fiction set in late 20th century Africa, the last historical novel I read set there was probably Kingsolver's, fifteen years ago.  I'm quite certain that A Different Sun will be compared to that worthy work, but I feel that it holds its own against the popular Kingsolver book.  Both feature multiple narrators (although this one's written in third person perspective rather than first person), and both feature females whose fates are tied to charismatic ministers.  In both cases, the culture and landscape the missionaries land in seems to trigger and amplify mental illness in the men, with near-catastrophic repercussions for the women and the native people whom those missionaries intend to "save".

In A Different Sun, we see life not only through the eyes of Emma Davis Bowman, free-spirited and spiritually-seeking daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, but later through those of her husband, the mercenary-cum-Reverend Henry Bowman, and then his local assistant, Jacob.  The narrative "is inspired by the writings of Lurana Davis Bowen and Thomas Jefferson Bowen, the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Africa" and author Orr's research provides cultural and historical context that never feels oppressively detailed or shoe-horned in (as it does in some historical fictions).

Although this novel did not immediately grip me, after I accustomed myself to Emma's unusually associative and somewhat "choppy" internal experience early in the book, I found that I could immerse myself in her perspective - and later in those of the two male characters.  Perhaps not as ambitious as Kingsolver's earlier work, A Different Sun certainly succeeds on its own more modest but worthy terms.

MFB out of Africa,

p.s.  I extend my gratitude to the author and to all those at TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate.  If you'd like to find out what other bloggers thought of A Different Sun, do hop by the tour hub now!


trish said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I agree that some books don't do as well if you dip in and out of them, and it's nice to be able to set aside chunks of time to really immerse yourself in a good book.

Thanks for being on the tour!

Unknown said...

Laurie, How exciting for me, a daughter of Nigeria, to be compared to Chinua Achebe. Thanks so much for settling in with the novel. I love the image of you with tea especially since my characters in West Africa also "take their tea." I really appreciate your giving the book time to win you over.

Laurie said...

Trish, I agree that I was lucky to have winter break to invest in a few long reads.
Elaine, one of the great pleasures in my life, and one that I do not take for granted, is the occasional opportunity to settle in with a good cup of tea and a worthy book. Thanks for the opportunity!

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