Tag Archives: Melanie Schnell

While the Sun is Above Us, by Melanie Schnell


While the Sun is Above Us

Melanie Schnell

Freehand Books, 2012

239 pages

Adut is a South Sudanese woman from the Dinka tribe who in the late 90s, during her country’s civil war, is enslaved and brought to the north. Sandra is a Canadian woman who decides, in 2004, to move to South Sudan to volunteer with an aid society after two traumatic moments in her life. The novel alternates between both woman’s stories and voices. Adut recounts her life from the late 90s to 2004. Sandra tells her story in the Sudan in 2004. From the opening pages of this book, it is implied that the two women meet and this built a suspense that kept me turning the pages, wondering how and when that would happen.

This is a captivating and moving book. Schnell does a lovely job capturing Adut’s voice. Although I had read about the civil war in the Sudan in newspapers, this book humanized the plight of the women there for me. I felt deeply for Adut, her family and what they went through during the war, some of which was violent and hard to read. I also learned a lot about a period of history that I do not feel has been captured much in Western literature. The only other novel I have read about modern Sudan is Dave Eggers’, The What is the What. And while Eggers did a good job rendering his male character’s experience, Schnell does an equally good job rendering the female experience. Sandra’s story is also intriguing, but I felt Adut’s story really carried the book.

Schnell is a Canadian who has spent time in the Sudan and other parts of East Africa. I did not find a lot of reviews of the book in the U.S. press, but she has been written about in Canada. She lives in Saskatchewan.

I read about this book online and then had a little trouble tracking it down in the U.S. (even in Brooklyn!). My local Barnes and Noble said I would have to pre-pay for it, as it was only available print-on-demand. My local independent bookstore said that it had not been published in the U.S. yet. But Amazon had both new and used copies. I am not sure what the issues were at the other locations. This book is well worth tracking down.


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Notable New Debuts

Since the last two books I reviewed were debut, but not new novels, I wanted to mention three new debuts that I have seen getting some positive press. I read about the first two in a recent copy of Oprah magazine. It nice to see how she consistently supports new writers.

Y, Marjorie Celona

A coming-of-age story of a young woman, Shannon, whose mother abandons her at birth. The novel recounts two stories: Shannon’s life until the age of 17 and the days leading up to her birth, when her mother decides to give her up. Sounds like a powerful story.

Truth in Advertising, John Kenney

In a totally different vein, this book is a comedy about a Madison Avenue copywriter who, while challenged by a diaper ad campaign, begins to reassess the choices he has made in life. A story about work, love and family.

Good Kids, Benjamin Nugent

Two teenagers witness their parents kissing in a natural food store and make a pact to never cheat on anyone in their lives only to meet again in their late 20s and have to reevaluate their pact. A romance that probes Generation Y and Boomer cultures.

Next week, I review Melanie Schnell’s, While the Sun is Above Us. A moving book about the Sudan by an emerging Canadian author.



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