A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa
Since she was a young woman, Emma has felt a calling to serve God. She is also drawn to Africa, thanks in part to her close relationship with Uncle Eli, one of her family’s slaves. When Emma meets Henry, a traveling missionary, and they fall in love, it seems like the Lord has intervened, and the couple travels to West Africa in 1840 to convert the locals. Emma is genuine in her desire to help the African people, and she sets up schools in the communities where she and Henry settle, teaching the children basic literacy while learning Yoruba in return. The couple develops close friendships with several native Africans, all of whom were touched by the slave trade that destroyed families and terrorized entire villages. Of their circle, they are closest to Jacob, who is hired as Henry’s servant but who becomes an unexpectedly close confidante to Emma—much to her husband’s dismay.
Orr’s pacing is slow, and Emma’s story unfolds in a series of scenes of the trials and triumphs of missionary life. Though Emma comes from a slave-owning family, she is compassionate to the plight of the slaves, both in early scenes set at her family home in Georgia, and in scenes where she discusses the trade with the Africans she befriends. Emma is very curious about all aspects of African life, including the non-Christian religions she encounters. At times, she questions her faith—unlike her husband, whose fervor is absolute. There may be too much questioning and doubt in A Different Sun to please readers who prefer straightforward inspirational fiction, but belief and conscience are the driving forces behind Orr’s characters.