Desert Isle Keeper
The Sleeping Night
Starcrossed lovers show up often enough in romance, but rarely with such convincing emotion as in The Sleeping Night. Barbara Samuel’s tale of an interracial couple in postwar Texas takes readers through a rollercoaster of emotion as we see her characters dealing with love, loss, and poisonous bigotry. I felt absolutely wrung out after reading this book, and I was in awe of the author’s ability to create a story that made the reader feel so deeply invested in the central couple.
The book opens as the elderly Angel returns to Gideon, Texas for a book reading. Tantalizing hints about the past get dropped, but the author wisely gives little away. Instead, the scene shifts to the past, where we get brief glimpses of Angel Corey growing up in her father’s store, just beyond the edges of the white population of Gideon. These glimpses, together with wartime letters, mingle with the main plot action set in 1946. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but the author organizes it well so that we get a portrait of Angel’s life in Gideon rather than simply a disjointed jumble of images.
Angel’s father led a somewhat unconventional life. His general store on the edge of town catered to the black population of Gideon, and we learn that after World War I, he came home with ideas that didn’t exactly square with the usual rules of the Jim Crow South. He treats his black customers with respect, even befriending some of them. One special friend of Mr. Corey’s would bring his son Isaiah with him to the store. Isaiah High and Angel Corey became the best of friends as small children just as their fathers were, but as they grew older, the prejudices of the time dictated that they stay far apart. Even so, when he shipped out to Europe during World War II, Isaiah started writing to Angel and she began to write back.
After the war, Isaiah did not wish to return to Gideon, but since his return from Europe included delivering a local woman’s orphaned niece to her, he had to stop in town briefly. His visit starts to extend when he learns Angel’s father has recently died, leaving her his store. Angel had married a school friend who later died during the war, and as a widow living alone on the edge of town, she is now the subject of censure from white Gideon. While Angel has some friends, others in town show their “concern” by snubbing her, refusing to help her, or in the case of one local man, trying to force her into marriage. The author does a good job of showing how others treat Angel and the reader can feel the isolation and danger in this woman’s life. Isaiah originally stays to do some work on her store, but despite his attempts to maintain a careful distance from Angel, things between them start to change.
Angel misses the Isaiah of the war letters. For those few years, their friendship had been back in place. The angry, distant Isaiah who returns to Gideon is not what Angel expected. Yet, as he spends more time working on the store, things start to thaw between them. Both grew up in Texas and they know about the taboos on friendships and relationships between blacks and whites. The author does a great job of portraying this realistically, showing just how segregation could poison interactions between people. After all, Angel not only has to consider consequences to herself; she must also keep in mind what white townspeople might do to Isaiah should they see her even speaking to him. The characters’ fears and the slowness of the relationship’s buildup felt painfully believable. Believable as well were the attitudes and actions of the people of Gideon toward the racial beliefs of the time – everything from crazed hatred to passive acceptance to quiet acts of defiance.
Though not an inspirational, faith plays an important role in this story. The horrors of the war shook Isaiah’s faith, but for Angel and others in the book, religious faith keeps them going. Angel’s faith runs deep and readers will see it on display in the story. However, I did not find the messages of faith preachy. Instead, these portions of the story made the place and time come to life, and they show the reader more about some of the characters.
And the love story here is beautiful. The romance itself develops slowly, full of very sentimental, sweet moments. Readers have to hang in there for a long time, but that first kiss and first love scene are deeply meaningful and so worth it. If you like the kinds of love stories so emotional that they leave tears in your eyes, this one definitely fits that bill. I found myself rooting for Angel and Isaiah almost from the beginning.
In many romances, readers know from the get-go that the ending will be happy. However, in this book, one cannot help those feelings of doubt. Angel and Isaiah have so much working against them, and at times the story has a darkness to it that will make one wonder what tragedy lies ahead. Against the shadows of violence and hate, the goodness of some characters and the beauty of the love story show vividly in contrast. The Sleeping Night is an unforgettable book, and one that I know I’ll read again.