Book Review: A Different Sun

A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr is about a young girl growing up in Georgia in the 1840s, Emma Davis, daughter of a plantation owner, who turns her distaste for the institution of slavery into a desire to be a missionary. She marries a former Texas calvaryman who runs a Christian mission in Africa, in what will later be called Nigeria, in the land of the Yoruba people. Both Emma and her husband, Rev. Henry Bowman, mistake zeal and desire for ability. Rev. Bowman is plagued by an unidentified malaise (probably malaria, but not necessarily) that affects his ability to be a good pastor and husband. Emma must cope with this in a land where she is an outsider.

I was puzzled several times by the realistic style of the book — more historical than fiction. At the end of the book, the historical note explained that the novel had been inspired by the journal of a real-life woman who married an African missionary in the mid-nineteenth century. I would have liked that note to be at the beginning — it would have explained why the book did not always seem like a work of fiction (it turns out that Ms. Orr quoted the actual journal several times throughout the book).

Overall, I liked the book very much. It was interesting and held my attention through several plot turns. I liked the occasional perspective changes so we can see the world through Rev. Bowman’s eyes and the eyes of Jacob, servant of Rev. Bowman.

Five out of five stars.

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