THE SLEEPING NIGHT – Barbara Samuel
Bell Bridge Books
Gideon, Texas – 2005 and in the Past
Angel Corey arrives in Gideon, East Texas for her appointment at Kim's book store to talk to the Black and White Book Club. She is eighty years old, and although most of her books are of a spiritual nature, her new book is entitled “War Letters” written to commemorate the end of World War II. The book store features mostly African American books, and a few people in town are not happy that Angel, a white woman, will be speaking. The book group began in 1972 by three black women and two white women; today the group is comprised of twelve members…a mixture of black and white.
Angel recalls her childhood and Isaiah, a black boy, who was her special friend. They played outside the store at the edge of Gideon where Angel and her father lived.
During the war, Angel marries and becomes a war widow, and when her father dies, she is determined to carry on at the store despite the fact that people object and the building is getting old with a leaking roof. Isaiah returns from Europe and visits his family in Lower Gideon, the black section of town. Although letters were exchanged during the war between them, he is hesitant to see Angel. He has changed. It is difficult to return to the prejudices of the South, and he hopes to head west where he can feel like a free man. Although there is some awkwardness between Angel and Isaiah when they meet, there is attraction as well. He tells her that he will fix her roof before he leaves.
Angel has a good friend in the elderly Mrs. Pierson. Gudren, a refugee from Holland, comes to Gideon with Isaiah at the request of Mrs. Pierson. Edwin Walker is interested in Angel, but she has no desire to become friendlier with him. With her father gone, she is lonely. As Isaiah repairs her roof, he tries to keep his distance from Angel because he knows no good can come of a closer relationship. It can even be dangerous, but will their attraction be denied?
If you enjoy reading letters, you will enjoy the letters exchanged between Angel and Isaiah during the war. Their friendship grows even stronger. When the letters get too personal, they are not mailed, but there is relief in the writing. Their feelings might remain unspoken, but they never diminish. Isaiah could be sullen and angry in his teen years, but as an adult, although sometimes still angry, he is confident in himself and dislikes going back to the Jim Crow segregation of the South after experiencing the freedom and acceptance of England. Back in the 1940's, friendship between black and white is frightening and suspect. Their faith in God is severely tested.
THE SLEEPING NIGHT is not always an easy story to read. Well written and frighteningly realistic, the two main characters are good people who just want to live happy lives without the turmoil and rage of intolerance. They dare not break the rules, and there is much love that simmers beneath the surface. They must contend with hate and prejudice in the small Texas town. A romantic and heartfelt tale, THE SLEEPING NIGHT is a fascinating story. Ms. Samuel has done a terrific job of telling how it was and maybe how it is.