The Other Side of the Sun
Madeine L’Engle is famous for her Young Adult books, especially A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, but what you may not know is that L’Engle wrote numerous books for adults. Most of them, as of this writing, are available on Kindle Unlimited, but of course, the one that piqued my interest was the only one that isn’t: The Other Side of the Sun.
This one got my attention because it’s about a British woman who marries a Southerner and moves to South Carolina. It’s not set directly after the Civil War, but about 20 years or so after so that the older generation still remembers. It’s also set in coastal South Carolina, and the Black family who live there are Gullah, which is a subculture strongly connected to African roots.
At first, I wasn’t even sure if I believed any of this book (it’s fiction but it should have some basis in reality, right?) because one of the characters is supposed to have been an African princess, called Honoria, who married the captain of a slave ship. The captain of a slave ship marrying an African princess and bringing her on a slave ship to the United States…well, if that weren’t stretching the boundaries of plausibility already, I was pretty sure that there weren’t any slave ships that late. But it turns out that I was wrong…slave ships were coming into the deep South as late as 1860, or right up to the beginning of the Civil War.
But the African state that Honoria supposedly comes from seems to have been completely fabricated: I can’t find any evidence that Kairogi. This area figures in the story in other ways as well: Stella’s husband supposedly is stationed there as a diplomat, and there is a plot that involves staging a coup and setting up the descendants of former slaves as rulers. It’s all a bit convoluted, but I’m sure that part is believable enough. Life is complicated enough when people run around making one legitimate family and another with one’s servants/slaves (which the White family in this novel does) without the added wrinkle of an African princess legitimately, for some reason, married to the captain of a slave ship.
I mean, the guy married this woman and then brought her to the U.S. as his wife ON A SLAVE SHIP. Okaaay….
The unique twist on this novel is that the façade of crumbling gentility that you see in the White characters this time is literally being supported by the Black characters in that Honoria is both the legal owner of the house they all live in and she has supposedly supported the family with “treasure” brought over from Africa. She seems to do this both out of obligation to them…they are her family in a sense…and also for self protection as the Black owner of a house in a White resort area.
So you’d think that THIS would be the crux of the plot, but no…it is both more and less than that, to be honest. All this, and the plot hinges more on the conflict of the Black and White men in the form of the Klan and a rival organization, the Black Riders…and the Black Riders are just as scary and generally threatening as the White Riders.
I can’t find the source of L’Engle’s interest in this topic. She’s from New York City, so she is neither a Southerner nor British. She doesn’t have to be either to write about them, but usually Southerners write Southern Gothic. I suppose I never thought anyone else was tortured enough by this topic to want to write about it. I also was slightly put off by the narration because Stella really doesn’t seem very British to me. Nothing about her diction really puts her nationality across.
Having said all of this, I like this book, but I don’t love it; however, I feel the same way about A Wrinkle in Time. I think I only read it once as a child. I liked the Austin series a bit more, but it wasn’t one of my favorites either. The Warmth of Other Suns seems similar to her other books; however, in that the development is very slowly paced as it builds up to a conclusion. So if you like L’Engle’s other books, likely you will enjoy this one.
More about South Carolina’s Low Country
Searching out the hidden stories of South Carolina’s Gullah Country from The New York Times (Note: The New York Times permits non-subscribers to read a limited number of stories each month.)
The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy
This early author of works such as The Prince of Tides and Beach Music wrote this memoir about his year teaching on an isolated island in South Carolina’s Low Country during the Civil Rights movement.
More Adult Novels for Madeleine L’Engle Fans
The Moment of Tenderness
This posthumous collection of “genre bending” short stories is scheduled for release on April 21, 2020.
Certain Women draws parallels between a modern actor and the Biblical King David.
A Severed Wasp
A Severed Wasp is the story of a retired concert pianist who moves back to the U.S. after a career in Europe.
Madeleine L’Engle’s memoirs
Madeleine L’Engle’s Life
Madeleine L’Engle’s Famous Young Adult Series (that are great for adults too!)
Instead of re-reading the original novel, take a look at the new graphic version.
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