Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:Barbara Samuel, Historical romance, interracial romance
Sensuality rating: lightly steamy
The Sleeping Night by Barbara Samuel. Published by Bell Bridge Books, 2012.
World War II is over, and lives will never be the same. For Isaiah High, the end of the war means knowing he’ll never be able to belong in Gideon, Texas again.
He’d understood that his service had changed him. Until he’d been forced to board the colored car at the Mason Dixon line, he had not realized that it might be impossible to return to the Jim Crow South, to fit himself back into rigors of a system that now seemed antiquated and peculiar.
However much he and his fellow soldiers had changed, it was clear the South had not. Companions warned him with stories of the beatings that soldiers received when, after long years away, they forgot themselves and tipped counter girls or filled paper cups with water from white water fountains.
As he passed though Gideon proper, he kept his gaze fixed firmly on his path so that he wouldn’t be required to speak to anyone, wouldn’t accidentally meet the eyes of anyone who’d take offense. It shamed him to do it, after so long walking like a man in the world.
For Angel Corey, whose father has just died, it means it’s no longer considered appropriate for her to run his store, which serves the black area of town. Men need the work now, and the only role Gideon will accept for a white woman is that of a wife.
But some things never change, including the love Isaiah and Angel feel for each other. Friends for all their lives, each other’s solace via mail throughout the war, they find it harder and harder to resist the desire to be more. It’s a desire that could easily get them both killed, in a place where even friendship between them is forbidden.
‘We can’t be friends, Angel. We aren’t children and it ain’t worth dying for.’ He straightened. ‘You go on inside, lock up.’
Angel met his gaze for a long, long moment, then she turned and went inside, feeling his presence as she closed the door and bolted it. There she leaned on the door frame and let the hot tears spill out. Stupid girl tears over stupid lost things, but they burned in her throat and filled her mouth and she just wanted to open the door and ask him to sit down and just talk to her.
She missed his letters, missed them still. He could say whatever he wanted to the contrary, but Isaiah knew her as well or better than anyone in the world… How could you carry the inside of a person with you and not call them a friend, no matter what the rules said?
It’s not worth dying for. In the bathroom, she washed her face with cold water, then went to her bedroom. Unbuttoning her dress, she wondered. Friendship seemed a better cause than what a lot of wars were fought about.
Told partially in the present day, partially in Angel and Isaiah’s past after the war, and partially through their wartime letters, this is not just a suspenseful forbidden love romance, but a powerful story about spiritual and emotional needs. The letters give rich historical detail about everyday life while showing the closeness of their connection, the depth of their sorrow over the ugliness of the world, and their need to understand how such awful things could happen. Angel has a strong personal faith; Isaiah, faced with the horrors of liberating Dachau and the deliberate murder of his father, is filled with bitterness and doubt. And of course, both feel suffocated by their constricted roles in life.
‘I really thought maybe I could be somebody one of these days, you know? He shook his head. ‘And all I am is another goddamned field hand.’
As Angel looked up at him, seeing despair in the hard lines of his face, in the rigid set of his mouth, she saw her own future with perfect bitterness. Saw herself trudging back and forth to town on Sunday mornings until all the life was strangled right out of her, until they put her in a box…
‘We ain’t even gonna have each other,’ he said softly, ‘so we could remember what we used to think.’
I’m afraid I’m making this sound like a downer, but though it was a tense read, building towards an inexorable sense that something terrible is going to happen, it was ultimately a triumphant story that had me crying with sentimental happiness. For its depth and unique qualities, I give The Sleeping Night the “it was amazing” rating of five stars. Thanks to netGalley for the review copy. You can pre-order it for Kindle here and it should also soon be available in print and audio.