Friday, November 21, 2003

I was ultimately not disappointed by Elaine Neil Orr's Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life as I had feared after reading the first few chapters. She is at her best when recreating the world of a white teenager struggling to come of age in an isolated, socially stifling, conservative missionary community in eastern Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s, a society that was every bit as foreign to me as the world of the Igbo and Yoruba people the Southern Baptist missionaries were trying to help. Orr's memories do not reflect that she had an awareness of racial issues in her youth, nor does she openly comment on race from her vantage point as a twenty-first century academic. Still, the events and details she recalls, demonstrate the overtly imperialistic mindset of the Southern Baptists and their privileged way of life, as each family enjoyed a full staff of servants and a standard of living that was far beyond their reach in the U.S.
Nigeria called out to Orr, but it was the land she was attached to, not its people. Her descriptions of swimming in the transparent, chilled waters of the Ethiope River are beautiful, especially her memory of her first personal sexual experience.


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