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Monday, October 08, 2012

The Sleeping Night by Barbara Samuel

A couple months ago I ran across a review of The Sleeping Night at Karen Knows Best. I kept it as unread in my Google Reader for weeks, until it occurred to me to request it from NetGalley, which I promptly did.  Barbara Samuel is one of the aliases of Ruth Wind, who wrote one of my favorite books, In the Midnight Rain. I was super excited to get this one and started reading almost immediately. And then stalled. See, this one is a actual .pdf which meant I couldn't adjust the font, and the font was tiny.  On top of this, the book is fairly intense. Here's the summary from

An unforgettable romance in an unforgiving time.

They'll need love and courage to see the dawn.

He's a hometown native, returning from the war, determined to change the world he'd fought to protect. She's the girl who's been his secret friend since childhood, now a beautiful woman. Her war-time letters kept him alive. But he's black, and she's white.

In 1946 in Gideon, Texas, their undeniable love might get them both killed.
The book opens with Isaiah coming home from war. As many black American WWII soldiers discovered, integration wasn't the same in Europe as it was in the American South. Behaviors that were okay in Europe were absolutely NOT okay in 1946 Texas.  Isaiah plans to say hello and goodbye in one breath and get out of town before he gets into trouble. He knows that he has feelings for Angel Corey, he always has, and he knows that those feelings will get him (or them) killed.

Angel's father, Parker, has always operated the colored store on the wrong side of town. Unfortunately, Parker died a few days before Isaiah gets home, leaving Angel alone. With no guardian and no husband, Angel is immediately under suspicion. A proper woman would leave the store and move into town. Angel has lived there her entire life though, and can't see how there's anything wrong about being there. Angel loves the black side of town as much as the white side. Her beliefs were instilled in her by her father, who served in WWI with Isaiah's father. Isaiah is her best friend and she has a hard time hiding that he's important to her.

The summary from Amazon would lead you to believe that Isaiah comes home gung ho to shake things up ("determined to change the world he'd fought to protect".) While he does come home feeling the weight of integration and Jim Crow, the book is not about Isaiah's determination to integrate Gideon, Texas. The book is about the two of them realizing their love for each other and the impossibility of it.  Integration isn't even an option yet, it's not even under discussion. Jim Crow is still law. This book is, all the way through, a love story. A tense, haunting, beautiful, love story.

The climax is a bit rushed, and I have a couple little annoyances with the book, but I loved it. One thing Barbara Samuel does well (and does well as Ruth Wind too) is setting. You get a really great sense of post-war Texas and war-time Europe. You know what the humidity feels like. The river in Gideon is a character itself. At the end of The Sleeping Night there is an except of In the Midnight Rain and another book, Jezebel's Blues. It wasn't until I got to this, after I finished the entire book, that I realized that both books are set in the same town. In the Midnight Rain takes place in between the time periods of The Sleeping Night. I didn't pay close enough attention to notice if some of the characters appear in both, but you can bet I'll be going back to find out. I'm not sure yet when Jezebel's Blues takes place, but it too is set in Gideon. Overall, one of the best books I've read yet this year.

Disclosure: I received this book as an ebook from Net Galley.

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