Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life

Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life

by ElaineNeilOrr (Author)


The daughter of medical missionaries, Elaine Neil Orr was born in Nigeria in 1954, in the midst of the national movement that would lead to independence from Great Britain. But as she tells it in her captivating new memoir, Orr did not grow up as a stranger abroad; she was a girl at home--only half American, the other half Nigerian. When she was sent alone to the United States for high school, she didn't realize how much leaving Africa would cost her.

It was only in her forties, in the crisis of kidney failure, that she began to recover her African life. In writing Gods of Noonday she came to understand her double-rootedness: in the Christian church and the Yoruba shrine, the piano and the talking drum. Memory took her back from Duke Medical Center in North Carolina to the shores of West Africa and her hometown of Ogbomosho in the land of the Yoruba people. Hers was not the dysfunctional American family whose tensions are brought into high relief by the equatorial sun, but a mission girlhood is haunted nonetheless--by spiritual atmospheres and the limits of good intentions.

Orr's father, Lloyd Neil, formerly a high school athlete and World War II pilot, and her mother, Anne, found in Nigeria the adventure that would have escaped them in 1950s America. Elaine identified with her strong, fun-loving father more than her reserved mother, but she herself was as introspective and solitary as her sister Becky was pretty and social. Lloyd acquired a Chevrolet station wagon which carried Elaine and her friends to the Ethiope River, where they swam much as they might have in the United States. But at night the roads were becoming dangerous, and soon the days were clouded by smoke from the coming Biafran War.

Interweaving the lush mission compounds with Nigerian culture, furloughs in the American South with boarding school in Nigeria, and eventually Orr's failing health, the narrative builds in intensity as she recognizes that only through recovering her homeland can she find the strength to survive. Taking its place with classics such as Out of Africa and more recent works like The Poisonwood Bible and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Gods of Noonday is a deeply felt, courageous portrait of a woman's life.


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More Information

Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Edition: illustrated edition
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
Published: 31 Aug 2005

ISBN 10: 081392510X
ISBN 13: 9780813925103

Media Reviews
Orr's acute memory and reflective contemplations about life in her beloved Africa in those formative years give readers an intricate picture of an unusual upbringing blended with an adult's take on the cultural changes in the world beyond the missionary compounds where her family was posted. - Publishers Weekly Most impressive about this book is its perfect balance. The thoughtfulness of Gods of Noonday toward its subjects and Orr's lush writing style make it one of this year's outstanding nonfiction books. - Louisville Courier-Journal The experiences she relates are poignant, funny, and often excruciating, as growing up often can be, but it is her description of the people, particularly the local Yoruba, and the many places that imprinted themselves on her heart that come most alive. - The Tennessean This amazing memoir shares with the reader the remarkable intelligence, honesty, and lyrical sensibility of Elaine Orr. Her style of writing is breath-takingly beautiful, whether she is describing the flora and fauna, the rivers and landscape of Nigeria, or the inner landscape of her personal journey of discovery and healing. I read this fresh, insightful, and original book in a constant state of wonder and excitement. - Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife and Four Spirits Gods of Noonday is a sharp eyed yet heartfelt memoir of a white American girl born and growing up in Nigeria, West Africa. Deeply thoughtful, candid, and unsentimental, it explores with great sensitivity and understanding the rare blessing of this most extraordinary and enriching of childhoods. A classic of its kind. - William Boyd, author of Brazzaville Beach and A Good Man in Africa
Author Bio
Elaine Neil Orr, a professor of literature and creative writing at North Carolina State University, is the author of two scholarly books. She has been awarded an NEH fellowship and writing fellowships in creative nonfiction by the North Carolina Arts Council and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.