Monday, September 17, 2018

The Brightest Sun

Title:  The Brightest Sun
Author:  Adrienne Benson
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  077833127X / 978-0778331278

Book Source:   I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "One of the old women severed the umbilical cord and passed the tiny body, slippery and warm, up into Leona's arms."

Favorite Quote:  "The forest breathed, and its heart beat; it was a unified body that lived and moved, its cells the countless creatures and plants that made it, and the rocks and the dirt and the air."

Set in the cities and villages of Kenya, The Brightest Sun is about women, specifically about mothers and daughters. It is about three specific women and their relationship to Kenya and life in Kenya.

Leona comes to Kenya as an anthropologist to study the Masaai lifestyle and to find ways to protect it. She finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy and a daughter. It changes her entire life. "But somewhere, somewhere Leona couldn't identify or pinpoint, there was something new. Being a mother was confusing and hard."

Simi is a Masaai woman. She is a mother to many, but is physically unable to bear children. "We say that a woman who hasn't given birth is like a wilderness. A woman or a man with children to remember them can never die. But a person like me? When I am gone, nobody will remember."

Jane is an expatriate wife. Her husband and daughter are her world as she follows her husband around the world from post to post. "It's not perfect, nothing ever is. Kids arent' yours to keep, in the end ... You can't control every outcome ... We had to accept him the way he is ... It was our gift to him to finally acknowledge that. Children become themselves. You can't force an outcome just because you want to."

Surrounding them is the world of Kenya - its natural grandeur, its people, its politics, and its culture. Kenya provides the background.  "It was a Kenyan sun; the kind she loved best - the brightest sun Leona had every seen." The story is the women and their daughters. The women come to life in this beautifully rendered debut novel with its vivid imagery of the Kenyan landscape. I could visualize it to the point of almost feeling like all my other senses were immersed in the environment as well.

In the stories of these women is a discussion of motherhood - reluctant, coveted, and sometimes taken for granted. The other concept rooted in the stories of these women is the feeling of being the outsider and the need to find a place to belong. Leona, as a single white female living with the Masaai and simply living in Kenya, stands apart. Leona, to whom motherhood does not come naturally, is different. Simi, as a woman unable to bear children, is a solitary figure in a society that values fertility. Jane spends her life as an expatriate, by definition an outsider. Even their daughters are outsiders. Adia, born and raised in Kenya, has two women who both mother her and a father who is not aware of her existence; this makes her different than the children around her. Grace is used to constantly having to start over with new friendships.

The emotions - both the joys and the heartbreaks - are universal. This feeling of not fitting in and the need to belong is also a universal one. It is these emotions that make the story of these women such a compelling one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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