Any time publicist Caitlin Hamilton Summie comes to me with a book to review I know I am in for a good read. Swimming Between Worlds by Elaine Neil Orr most assuredly fit that bill. I was sent a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About Swimming Between Worlds:
Tacker Hart left his home in North Carolina as a local high school football hero, but returns in disgrace after being fired from a prestigious architectural assignment in West Africa. Yet the culture and people he grew to admire have left their mark on him. Adrift, he manages his father’s grocery store and becomes reacquainted with a girl he barely knew growing up.
Kate Monroe’s parents have died, leaving her the family home and the right connections in her Southern town. But a trove of disturbing letters sends her searching for the truth behind the comfortable life she’s been bequeathed.
On the same morning but at different moments, Tacker and Kate encounter a young African-American, Gaines Townson, and their stories converge with his. As Winston-Salem is pulled into the tumultuous 1960s, these three Americans find themselves at the center of the civil rights struggle, coming to terms with the legacies of their pasts as they search for an ennobling future.
About the Author:
Elaine Neil Orr is professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where she teaches world literature and creative writing. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Spalding University in Louisville. Author of A Different Sun, two scholarly books, and the memoir Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life, she has been a featured speaker and writer-in-residence at numerous universities and conferences and is a frequent fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She grew up in Nigeria.
You know those books that you start and about a paragraph in you know you are in trouble? The kind of book that you will not be able to put down and all semblance of normal life will cease until you turn the last page? Swimming Between Worlds is one of those books. I knew before I turned to the second page that my day was shot. At least in regards to any plans I had beyond reading – because that is all I did. I didn’t even cook dinner – my husband was on his own.
There are three main characters in the book:
- Tacker who graduated from college with a degree in architecture, went to Nigeria to help build a series of schools but he runs afoul of the rules and is sent home. A bit adrift he ends up managing one of his father’s grocery stores
- Kate who went to high school with Tacker but they didn’t really interact then. She has lost both of her parents and now owns her family home. She is a bit adrift and going through her family papers isn’t helping.
- Gaines is a young African American man living with Tacker’s family maid. He’s her nephew and she asks Tacker to hire him. This leads to more than one controversy. It’s the ’60s in South Carolina and race relations are not exactly friendly.
These three come together in a time of change and racial tensions. All of their lives will be changed.
The story is one that flashes between the main characters’ past and present. Each one is searching for something but they don’t know exactly what. Ms. Orr develops her characters slowly and patiently so that the reader really gets to know the people and get invested in their lives. Additionally the writing is so very descriptive that you don’t feel like you are reading. It’s one of those books, at least for me, where you feel like you are living in the middle of a movie in your head. These books are few and far between and are pure magic when you are lucky enough to read one.
This book is definitely staying so that I can reread it some day. I’m sure I’ll find some nuances I missed this first time around. It’s not always an easy read as I’m sure you can imagine give that it deals with racial tensions. In that it is a book that is very on trend for the world in which we live today. Until we learn to live together as people and not as races we are just doomed to be constantly at war with ourselves. It would seem to me that by now we should understand this.
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