Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Come Sunday"

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid. During the country’s State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English literature. By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but she left career, country, and kin when she married an American and moved to the United States. For more than a decade she pursued a career in nonprofit work, focusing on the needs of women and children.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Come Sunday, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Come Sunday places you reluctantly in the middle of a funeral service. That fact alone may trigger the avoidance instinct and compel your fingers to shuffle through for another page – except for the voice of Abbe Deighton, the main character, drawing you immediately into her tale. Assailed by grief, she is incapable of participating in a ritual that is supposed to offer comfort and closure. For a moment, her attention is diverted from the casket to a couple of children running outside.

Abbe is unable to imagine what lies ahead. She does not know, at this junction, how the present crisis will cause her to examine her closest relationships, how she will have to wrestle with the ghosts from her youth and return to her homeland only to uncover life-altering secrets. But also unimaginable for her at this point are the transcendent moments that are to come, moments that will not only bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit, but to its triumph over despair.

The fact that you have landed smack in the middle of a funeral belies the overall character of the book. It is not a story about death but life, the complexity of life, the unexpected nature of life and how tragedies inevitably rearrange one’s priorities. It’s a story not so much about loss as it is about discovery, about the rocky road to redemption. The funeral on page 69 is the marking of the end of one life, but it is the start of the journey to a new one.

From page 69:

The words are indecipherable, but the melody weaves its familiar thread through the crowd. Behind me people begin singing along in English “Abide With Me.” Their song seems to rock the church as though it were a cradle until we are all gently swaying, swaddled in song.

The rocking dislodges the last few bolts battening down my composure. When I careen forward, two hands – Greg’s on one side, Rhiaan’s on the other – anchor me to the pew.

I straighten up, accept Rhiaan’s handkerchief, and stare out at the courtyard. A mother has taken her fussy child outside and is pointing to the plumeria blossoms on the tree. I do not recognize her. Two little boys chase after each other, hands shaped as pistols.

It cannot be that she is no longer here.
Preview Come Sunday, and learn more about the book and author at Isla Morley's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue