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Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life Paperback – August 16, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

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.

(Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees)

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.

(William Boyd, author of Brazzaville Beach and A Good Man in Africa)

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)

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.

(Doris Betts, author of Souls Raised from the Dead)

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.

(James Morrison, author of Broken Fever)

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.

(Toyin Falola, author of Yoruba Gurus)

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)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (August 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081392510X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813925103
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #735,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elaine Neil Orr was born in Nigeria. Her Yoruba name, Bamidele, means "follow me home" and most of her fiction and memoir takes readers to West Africa. She also writes about her second home, the American South. In memoir and fiction, she writes richly about the natural world, complex human relationships, and spiritual longing. Library Journal says of her latest book, A Different Sun, "This extraordinary novel shines with light and depth."

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
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2 star
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See all 12 customer reviews
"West Africa will take you in."
Faith M Eidse
As I read her book my overwhelming feeling was "Yes, I know that emotion".
Grace A. Swanson
She is a wonderful writer, and I wish she would write more.
Old Man of Liberia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Faith M Eidse on January 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Neil Orr's memoir, Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life, is an essential book in an era of global expansion. Orr's courage to claim as home Nigeria, the land of her birth and childhood, despite her expatriate status, should encourage expatriate children everywhere to claim their various nations, whether they integrated to host cultures or not. It should encourage them to do the archeology, as Orr does, uncovering the archetypes of their host cultures, whether they were conscious of them at the time or not. And it should encourage families raising children overseas to give them a fuller immersion, permit them host country playmates, and encourage local education and language study. Parents employed outside their borders must recognize that their childhood homes are not their children's childhood homes.
Orr's most symbolic immersion was swimming in the cool clear Ethiope, and she claims the river as her sacred ground. "Nothing you could tell me about Jehovah was equal to the proof of divinity provided by the mere existence of so lovely a river. And so I worshipped it."
The river represents the cultural immersion Orr longs for, after the fact. Her life in Nigeria seems decorous and material as she recalls American girl toys she got for Christmas in an American decorated house, later wishing it had been African art. Orr contrasts herself to "real missionaries" who spoke native languages, lived among Nigerians and regarded her, a white child, as no "more special than they (Nigerian children) were."
Honesty glimmers through that exceeds "Out of Africa" and "The Poisonwood Bible," however much those books claim to be "of the land." For instance, Orr sees the anger of Nigerians directed at American missionaries during the U.S.
Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Grace A. Swanson on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like Elaine, I am an MK from Nigeria, but in the far north eastern part. As I read her book my overwhelming feeling was "Yes, I know that emotion". What a treat it was to read her book. I bought two copies. One to keep and one to share.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Old Man of Liberia on August 28, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I too was a MK in Nigeria, and I was there some of the same years Elaine writes about. In fact, our family lived on a missionary compound not too far from where Elaine lived early on. Because I could relate to her experiences and some of her feelings, at times I felt as if she was stealing my thoughts, emotions, and memories. Would I have enjoyed this book if not for the personal ties? ABSOLUTELY! She is a wonderful writer, and I wish she would write more.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ron Wasson on November 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Elaine has succeeded in what many MKs (missionary kids) have wanted to do and that is to write about our experiences while growing up in Nigeria. I too, was born in Ogbomosho, Nigeria and knew Elaine and her family while in living in Nigeria and when I read her book, I could see, hear, taste, smell and touch Nigeria just as if I were right back there. It brought back so many precious memories that I have not thought about in years, some that I had even forgot.
It helps to strengthen our common bond when we have the opportunity to share with one another about our experiences in Nigeria. It makes me appreciate and proud of the heritage that we all share.
Thank you, Elaine, for making "going home", close as possible.
Your fellow guava tree lover,
Ron Wasson
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Robinett on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have not been able to stop thinking about this book which is so beautifully written by Elaine Neil Orr. As she told the story of her childhood in colonial Africa, I could feel the heat, smell the sometimes awful smells, taste the dust, and relate to her pain of being a child of 2 countries. She writes hauntingly of war breaking out all around her and how the Americans chose to ignore it and just kept "carrying on". This is a great book for anyone that grew up one country( mainly due to their parents' jobs) but were then sent back to live in their parents' country. Elaine starts the journey to find what she left behind in her beloved Africa only after her health takes a serious turn for the worse. I could not put this book down until I knew the ending.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ed C on July 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was compelled to read, "Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's Life in Africa," after completing Orr's new novel, "A Different Sun." A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa Struck by her virtuosic writing, I was eager to try her memoir. I wasn't disappointed! "God's Of Noonday" is among the best memoirs I have ever read. Orr has held nothing back, we know what she was thinking, how she experienced daily life and events. I felt the joys of her childhood and the aches and angst of her adolescence; the love she has for Nigeria, her birth home, tempered by the difficulties, pain, and sometimes resentment of her forced Americanization. In short, it's a fabulous read characterized by Orr's creative and masterful use of language. If you haven't yet read "A Different Sun," (see link above) I'd recommend picking up both books, then first reading "Gods of Noonday" to gain some insight into the African missionary lifestyle. You'll find an interesting aspect of reading both is that "Gods of Noonday" is Nigerian missionary life from the perspective of youth while the novel "A Different Sun" is from an adult perspective. Neither is immune from experiencing similar joys and pains, and Orr gets it all across brilliantly.
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