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Memoir Review    

 

 

Gods of Noonday:
A White Girl's African Life
By Elaine Neil Orr
University of Virginia Press, 2003
Hardcover, $27.95 ( 336 pages)
ISBN: 0-8139-2209-7
 
 
 

It's hard not to think of Doris Lessing while reading Elaine Neil Orr's Gods of Noonday. Like Lessing, Orr owes her essence to Africa. 

Elaine Nell Orr, the daughter of medical missionaries, was born in Nigeria in 1954. Her childhood coincided with the national movement leading to independence from Great Britain. She grew up believing herself to be half-American and half Nigerian. It wasn't until she was sent -- alone to the United States to attend high school, that she realized how closely she identified with Nigeria and what leaving Africa had cost her. 

A health crisis in her forties (kidney failure) took Orr back to her African life. Her parents had gone to Africa in the hopes of doing something to be of service. Her father and mother realized they were in the midst of a grand adventure. Their children were exposed to the various faiths surrounding them, sent to boarding schools, and allowed to explore the lush landscapes with friends. In her effort to regain her physical strength, the author realizes she also needs to regain her spiritual roots. 

As memory takes her from the Duke Medical Center in North Carolina to her childhood visits to the shores of West Africa, and her first hometown of Ogbomosho, Orr realizes the ways in which she's both American and Nigerian, and both Christian and Yoruban. Each realization gives her another piece of the puzzle that is her life. 

A professor of contemporary literature and women's studies at North Carolina State University, Elaine Neil Orr also teaches creative nonfiction in the brief residency program at Spalding University's MFA program. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.  

 

Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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