Title: A Different Sun
Author: Elaine Neill Orr
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Berkley Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher for a book tour with TLC Book Tours
Number of pages: 379 pages
First line: In gray morning light, Emma Davis stood before the old slave’s garden at the back of his cabin, looking upon the precise rows of cabbage planted for fall.
Goodreads blurb: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” When Emma Davis reads the words of Isaiah 6:8 in her room at a Georgia women’s college, she understands her true calling: to become a missionary. It is a leap of faith that sweeps her away to Africa in an odyssey of personal discovery, tremendous hardship, and profound transformation.
For the earnest, headstrong daughter of a prosperous slave owner, living among the Yoruba people is utterly unlike Emma’s sheltered childhood—as is her new husband, Henry Bowman. Twenty years her senior, the mercurial Henry is the object of Emma’s mad first love, intensifying the sensations of all they see and share together. Each day brings new tragedy and heartbreak, and each day, Emma somehow finds the hope, passion, and strength of will to press onward. Through it all, Henry’s first gift to Emma, a simple writing box—with its red leather-bound diary and space for a few cherished keepsakes—becomes her closest confidant, Emma’s last connection to a life that seems, in this strange new world, like a passing memory.
A Different Sun is the beautifully written story of a woman who desperately wants to be used of God. Emma grew up as the daughter of a slave owner father. This fact, as well as her friendship with one slave in particular, Uncle Eli, obligate her to make amends. When she is called to Africa as a missionary’s wife, she sees it as a way to do penance for the sins of her father.
Emma feels like she truly understands the slaves, and that she is beyond prejudice, but this belief is tested to the limit when she actually gets to Africa to live among the Yoruba people. Her whiteness puts her in the minority, and her ideas of modesty, propriety, and privacy get in the way of her desire to connect with the people. As time goes by, though, Emma learns to be one of the Yoruba in a way her husband never does.
Henry is a prickly character. He also sees his life as a missionary as a way to make penance for his earlier life, but he is plagued by a mysterious illness that affects his mind. His symptoms keep him addicted to laudanum and cause him to see hallucinations. As a result, Emma has rely on Henry’s assistant, a Yoruba man named Jacob, and she finds herself drawn to him in spite of herself.
I absolutely loved the writing in A Different Sun. The author’s description and pacing evoke the hot, dry African climate, the slower pace, and the other-ness that Emma feels as she gets accustomed to her new home. This is not necessarily a plot-driven novel, but Emma’s emotional journey throughout the book keep things moving along. I wasn’t completely thrilled with the ending, but that says more about me as a reader than it does about the book.