Creativity Magazine

Swimming Between Worlds and A Different Sun

By Vickilane

Swimming Between Worlds and A Different Sun
Tacker Hart is the swimmer and one world is Nigeria, where, as a member of an architectural team, he has embraced the rich culture and has been welcomed by the natives as a brother, only to be fired and sent home in disgrace by his white employers for consorting with the natives. 

The other world is Tacker’s hometown of Winston-Salem, to which he returns, feeling strangely adrift in the turmoil of the fledgling civil rights movement. His time in Africa has opened Tacker’s eyes to the injustices of segregation, but this new revelation is at odds with the white culture he is a part of. When he meets Gaines, a young African-American man who is involved in the lunch counter sit-ins and is one of the founders of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Tacker is challenged to put his beliefs into action.

Swimming Between Worlds and A Different Sun

Tacker is also challenged by Kate Monroe, a young woman seemingly as adrift as he is. Torn between his desire for Kate, his need to affirm his beliefs by participating in civil rights activities, and a deep-seated longing to return to Nigeria, Tacker struggles to find his place between the two worlds.  Kate, like many white young women of her time, is more or less oblivious to the current state of race relations and uneasy at Tacker’s growing involvement with Gaines and his fellow activists. The ensuing tensions build to a powerful climax that I found at once satisfying and inevitable. Orr’s descriptions of Nigeria are a feast for the senses and her detailed picture of Winston-Salem in 1959-60 rings absolutely true. Lyrical prose tempted me to linger, but the masterful story telling pulled at me and kept me turning pages late into the night. And when I finished, I wanted more. More of the fine writing and more about Nigeria. 

Swimming Between Worlds and A Different Sun
Fortunately, Orr has two more books out: a memoir of her own childhood growing up in Nigeria and her first novel --A Different Sun.  I leaped right in to the latter and wasn't disappointed. 

Set in the mid-1800's, the novel was inspired by a historical missionary couple in Africa. Working with the writings of these two, especially the wife's sparse and sometimes enigmatic diary, Orr conjures up a moving picture of ayoung woman, daughter of a Southern slaveholder and her older husband -- a driven man and a determined woman, testing their faith in God and one another in the exotic heart of Yoruba land.

As in Swimming Between Worlds, the matter of race is all important. The irony of sending missionaries to Africa to save the natives while ignoring the festering wound that is slavery in the States is enhanced as the missionary couple find themselves tolerated and, at times, saved by their native hosts.

As her husband alternates between trying to expand his mission and battling a recurrent illness that often renders him near-lunatic, the young bride struggles to cope with a growing  dependence on one of their native guides -- an ex-slave.

Orr's fine prose and piercing psychological observation, as well as the sympathetic characters, make this a near-perfect book. Also highly recommended.

Swimming Between Worlds and A Different Sun

Elaine Neil Orr

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