Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Review: A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr

Published by: Berkley Books
Published on: April 2, 2013
Page Count: 388
Genre: Fiction
My Reading Format: Paperback
Available Formats: Paperback and Amazon Kindle e-book

My Review:

Emma Davis knows she is called for something special. It's something different from the life her sister Catherine is sure to lead, and different from what her father expects of her. As a young girl growing up on a Middle Georgia plantation, her closest confidant, a slave named Uncle Eli, encourages her to follow her heart. Emma knows to do her life's work she must leave her comfortable life, and she's able to do that when she meets and marries a handsome missionary on leave from his work in Nigeria. Emma and Henry Bowman's married life begins with a journey across the ocean to a Yoruba village.

During her young married life, Emma is constantly out of her comfort zone but leans on her faith to navigate a new culture, household, language and customs. Emma learns the differences between the antebellum South of her girlhood and her womanhood in Africa. Perhaps her biggest challenge is learning to let her husband operate as the head of their household, even when she believes she knows other, better ways to live their missionary life. Through challenges, heartbreak, love and success, Emma learns much about herself as an individual and a wife, and how she can manage to be both.

With beautiful imagery, Orr paints a vivid, complicated picture of Africa and its people, with Africa being a mysterious character in the novel. Orr skillfully creates mounting tension between Emma and Henry, and Emma and Jacob, an native and Henry's missionary helper. And, the author conveys the deep pain and emotional struggle with Emma that she must bear alone. Emma's journey is both an interior and an exterior one, and both are defined by her life as a missionary in a place where she will always be an outsider. Emma's faith, though it waivers at times, sees her through it all.

This is a novel that will give readers reason to consider what freedom is and what one's religion means, timeless ideas that will always resonate with us. 

**Note: Elaine Neil Orr was one of my professors at NC State University when I was working toward my masters degree. Her workshop course in creative nonfiction and thesis direction were of great importance for writing my thesis and the writing coaching and editing work I've done since. I'm grateful to her and honored to review her first work of fiction.

Four out of five stars

If you like A Different Sun, you'll probably like State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and O Pioneers! and My Antonia, both by Willa Cather.

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