Jan 21, 2014

Book Review: A Different Sun, a Novel of Africa by Elaine Neil Orr

Title: A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa by Elaine Neil Orr
Published April 2, 2013; Berkley
Genre: historical novel
Objective rating: 3.5/5

About the book: A novel of Emma, a young woman from Georgia, who marries an American missionary in the mid-19th century and travels with him to West Africa to live among the Yoruba people. There she lives a life of challenge as well as gets to know, befriend, and rely on the local people.

My comments: I could tell while reading the book that the author belonged to missionary people, as the novel is circumscribed by the strong and determined faith of Emma and her husband Henry Bowman to build a church and bring Christianity into the heart of the African country. How well they succeeded is not clear to me, as the customs and beliefs of the local people, and the challenges of not enough money and supplies, and isolation from other Westerners take a strong toll.

There is an element of the magical in the book, as Emma carries a talisman of sorts from her home in Georgia back to Africa. The talisman is a carved wooden knife or letter opener that the old African slave from her father's plantation, Uncle Eli, had given Emma to take to Africa with her. It somehow challenges Emma to make amends to Uncle Eli for the conditions of his slavery. The novel is told mainly from Emma's point of view, and occasionally from her husband's, and from their African cook and helper, Jacob's. As a look into the lives of missionaries abroad, it is an excellent addition to the literature of this genre.

Elaine Neil Orr's memoir, Gods of Noonday, was a Top-20 Book Sense selection. She is associate editor of Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books. Orr was born and grew up in Nigeria to medical missionary parents. Orr left West Africa at age sixteen and attended college in Kentucky. She studied creative writing and literature at the University of Louisville before taking her Ph.D. in Literature and Theology at Emory University.

She is Professor of English at North Carolina State University and on the faculty of the MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University. She  lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, Anderson Orr. Visit her website and Facebook page.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the author for a review copy of this book. See more reviews by tour participants. 


  1. I've been on the fence about reading this one, but your review makes it sound interesting, especially with the two POVs.

  2. I love how you picked up on the magical in the novel. It's such an important thread. You recognize how Christianity met a strong indigenous spirituality in West Africa (and actually, that spirituality had traveled to the U.S. with enslaved people such as Uncle Eli). Thanks for drawing that out! And thanks for the review.

  3. This one sounds so good! Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I like the idea of the talisman!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  5. As the other commenters have noted it sounds like the talisman is a bit of a wild card in the story. Perhaps a bit of switch that this was carried by the folks who were attempting to spread Christianity.

  6. This does sound intriguing in because of the magical element in the story, and for other reasons. Nice, succinct review, Harvee.


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