Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life

Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life

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by Elaine Neil Orr
     
 

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The daughter of medical missionaries, Elaine Neil Orr was born in Nigeria in 1954, in the midst of the national movement that would lead to independence from Great Britain. But as she tells it in her captivating new memoir, Orr did not grow up as a stranger abroad; she was a girl at home—only half American, the other half Nigerian. When she was sent alone to

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Overview

The daughter of medical missionaries, Elaine Neil Orr was born in Nigeria in 1954, in the midst of the national movement that would lead to independence from Great Britain. But as she tells it in her captivating new memoir, Orr did not grow up as a stranger abroad; she was a girl at home—only half American, the other half Nigerian. When she was sent alone to the United States for high school, she didn't realize how much leaving Africa would cost her.

It was only in her forties, in the crisis of kidney failure, that she began to recover her African life. In writing Gods of Noonday she came to understand her double-rootedness: in the Christian church and the Yoruba shrine, the piano and the talking drum. Memory took her back from Duke Medical Center in North Carolina to the shores of West Africa and her hometown of Ogbomosho in the land of the Yoruba people. Hers was not the dysfunctional American family whose tensions are brought into high relief by the equatorial sun, but a mission girlhood is haunted nonetheless--by spiritual atmospheres and the limits of good intentions.

Orr's father, Lloyd Neil, formerly a high school athlete and World War II pilot, and her mother, Anne, found in Nigeria the adventure that would have escaped them in 1950s America. Elaine identified with her strong, fun-loving father more than her reserved mother, but she herself was as introspective and solitary as her sister Becky was pretty and social. Lloyd acquired a Chevrolet station wagon which carried Elaine and her friends to the Ethiope River, where they swam much as they might have in the United States. But at night the roads were becoming dangerous, and soon the days were clouded by smoke from the coming Biafran War.

Interweaving the lush mission compounds with Nigerian culture, furloughs in the American South with boarding school in Nigeria, and eventually Orr's failing health, the narrative builds in intensity as she recognizes that only through recovering her homeland can she find the strength to survive. Taking its place with classics such as Out of Africa and more recent works like The Poisonwood Bible and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Gods of Noonday is a deeply felt, courageous portrait of a woman's life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though Orr's experience as an "MK," or missionary kid, in Nigeria in the 1950s and '60s was in many ways less exotic and foreign than one might expect, most Americans do not complete high school amid successive governmental coups and political chaos. Orr's acute memory and reflective contemplations about life in her beloved Africa in those formative years give readers an intricate picture of an unusual upbringing blended with an adult's take on the cultural changes in the world beyond the missionary compounds where her family was posted. The North Carolina State University professor of literature and women's studies brings a critical eye to her cherished childhood world, showing that many of the pressures of early adolescence and high school (most of which she completed in a Nigerian missionary boarding school) she endured are strikingly familiar to American schoolchildren's experiences. She interweaves the story of her recent serious illness (a disease resulting from diabetes), which clearly created a longing for the familiarity and safety of her childhood. While Orr's recent troubles seem mercifully to have been alleviated, she clearly found some healing in poring through her past. Looking at pictures of Africa, she thinks, "I could die and be satisfied because once I knew a place of such stunning grace that my life has already been fulfilled." This memoir is much more personal and painterly than it is politically or historically charged, and would not lose any of its charm for losing a third of its length. (Sept.) Forecast: First serials in Southern Cultures and The Missouri Review, along with a five-city author tour and co-op ad campaign, might make Orr's memoir a regional hit in the South and Midwest. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Sue Monk Kidd
Orr’s acute memory and reflective contemplations about life in her beloved Africa... give readers an intricate picture of an unusual upbringing blended with an adult’s take on the cultural changes in the world beyond the missionary compounds.—Publishers WeeklyReading Gods of Noonday was like falling under a lovely spell. With mesmerizing language, Elaine Orr writes about her childhood in Africa, capturing the beautiful, the sacred, and the essential.

William Boyd
Gods of Noonday is a clear-eyed yet heartfelt memoir of a white American girl born and growing up in Nigeria, West Africa. Deeply thoughtful, candid and unsentimental, it explores with great sensitivity and understanding the rare blessing of this most extraordinary and enriching of childhoods. A classic of its kind.

Doris Betts
Very few childhoods are this exotic, and even fewer are retold in such beautiful language as Elaine Orr does in this book. If her heart is still partly marooned in her exotic childhood world, her mind made it possible for me to live there, too, and understand. A fascinating memoir with language rich enough for a poem, plot rich enough for a novel.

James Morrison
In a voice by turns intimate, engaging, melancholy, familiar, lyrical, and fraught with the tender distance of learning, Orr portrays a white girl's life in the Nigeria of the 1960s and 1970s, postcolonial, yet far from free. Hers is a rich memoir of childhood mystery, adult illness, and triumphant recovery.

Toyin Falola
Truly learned, incredibly fascinating, Elaine Orr's Gods of Noonday melts the Atlantic divide as we read the story of this unique personality located in two different worlds. Here is a rare example of a memoir that turns experience into knowledge and teaches without being prescriptive, in the process giving us an unmistakable portrait of the remarkable power of human dignity.

Sena Jeter Naslund
This amazing memoir shares with the reader the remarkable intelligence, honesty, and lyrical sensibility of Elaine Orr. Her style of writing is breathtakingly beautiful, whether she is describing the flora and fauna, the rivers and landscape of Nigeria, or the inner landscape of her personal journey of discovery and healing. I read this fresh, insightful, and original book in a constant state of wonder and excitement.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813924472
Publisher:
University of Virginia Press
Publication date:
08/29/2003
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Sena Jeter Naslund

This amazing memoir shares with the reader the remarkable intelligence, honesty, and lyrical sensibility of Elaine Orr. Her style of writing is breathtakingly beautiful, whether she is describing the flora and fauna, the rivers and landscape of Nigeria, or the inner landscape of her personal journey of discovery and healing. I read this fresh, insightful, and original book in a constant state of wonder and excitement.

"This amazing memoir shares with the reader the remarkable intelligence, honesty, and lyrical sensibility of Elaine Orr. Her style of writing is breathtakingly beautiful, whether she is describing the flora and fauna, the rivers and landscape of Nigeria, or the inner landscape of her personal journey of discovery and healing. I read this fresh, insightful, and original book in a constant state of wonder and excitement." -- Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife and Four Spirits

Sue Monk Kidd

Orr’s acute memory and reflective contemplations about life in her beloved Africa... give readers an intricate picture of an unusual upbringing blended with an adult’s take on the cultural changes in the world beyond the missionary compounds.—Publishers WeeklyReading Gods of Noonday was like falling under a lovely spell. With mesmerizing language, Elaine Orr writes about her childhood in Africa, capturing the beautiful, the sacred, and the essential.

Toyin Falola

Truly learned, incredibly fascinating, Elaine Orr's Gods of Noonday melts the Atlantic divide as we read the story of this unique personality located in two different worlds. Here is a rare example of a memoir that turns experience into knowledge and teaches without being prescriptive, in the process giving us an unmistakable portrait of the remarkable power of human dignity.

William Boyd

Gods of Noonday is a clear-eyed yet heartfelt memoir of a white American girl born and growing up in Nigeria, West Africa. Deeply thoughtful, candid and unsentimental, it explores with great sensitivity and understanding the rare blessing of this most extraordinary and enriching of childhoods. A classic of its kind.

Doris Betts

Very few childhoods are this exotic, and even fewer are retold in such beautiful language as Elaine Orr does in this book. If her heart is still partly marooned in her exotic childhood world, her mind made it possible for me to live there, too, and understand. A fascinating memoir with language rich enough for a poem, plot rich enough for a novel.

James Morrison

In a voice by turns intimate, engaging, melancholy, familiar, lyrical, and fraught with the tender distance of learning, Orr portrays a white girl's life in the Nigeria of the 1960s and 1970s, postcolonial, yet far from free. Hers is a rich memoir of childhood mystery, adult illness, and triumphant recovery.

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