The Other Side of the Sun

Rating: -

Madeleine L'Engle

I am starting to think that I ought to give up on reading L'Engle's adult fiction; I've been disappointed by the past couple of things that I have read by her.

This book is about a young woman who is from England and has just got married to an American who is from the south. Her husband is sent off on a secret mission just after their honeymoon so the woman is sent off to live with his family in America. Unfortunately, he hasn't had an opportunity to tell her much about his family, or about America and the culture she will be living in, so she will have to discover all of this herself. Since she is moving into Reconstruction Era southern US, and her husband's family has about a gazillion skeletons in their closets, this leads to at least a lot of plot. We get to see the family's relationship to their black servants and the son of their servants who has become a doctor and has returned to the south to practice medicine among the poor people living in the swamps near the house. The KKK (or a reasonable facsimile) make an appearance. Members of the family display varying degrees of racism. A "Big Plot" is finally discovered.

Okay - so what's my problem with the book? First off, the protagonist really bothered me. She was too naive to be believable or tolerable. She has an attitude that "of course" blacks and whites are identical and cannot fathom that anyone might think otherwise. Furthermore, she cannot learn that she cannot treat the black doctor the same way she would a white doctor (let him treat her, touch her, etc.) because it will get him killed. She at one point breaks down in horror that this hatred could result in babies being killed. It wasn't that she just hadn't encountered these things in person before and was having a hard time handling it - she was unable to fathom that there was any evil in the world at all. I found her beyond irritating.

Secondly, I was bothered by the way that religion was handled in this book. The family's cook is a black woman who used to do fortune telling and things like that and believe in spirits. She became a Christian while she was working for the grandmother of the young woman's husband, but she is occasionally tempted to use her "gift" to look into the future. She agonizes over whether it is wrong to do so, or whether she should be able to use the gift if God gave it to her. The way that this whole issue comes to a head betrays what feels like an absolute lack of understanding of Christianity, which surprises me in L'Engle. I also object to the fact that this issue partly comes up because the "evil blacks" (who are fighting the "evil whites" - there is demonstration of racial hatred on both sides) are represented by the poor who live in the swamp and participate in fortune telling and animal sacrifice.

I recommend people against reading this book. A definite '-' from me.


Review written July 2001.


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