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Book Reviews By Devin Pacholik

Melanie Shnell’s

while the sun is above us


reat books end and leave your mind in a chorus of conflicting emotions. While the Sun is Above Us is one of those books. Melanie Schnell understands the author’s role is to give attention to details, reveal interesting characters, and the most importantly, to tell a good story. This story takes place in Southern Sudan circa 2003 during the civil war, the Darfur Genocide. During this time Sudanese governmentbacked militias carry out the murder, rape and destruction of the country’s own people. Their goal is to eliminate the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), rebel groups seeking independence. Yet to experience long-term peace, this tumultuous conflict is still ongoing, and factored into the division of Sudan into two separate nations. Schnell, a travelled writer who grew up on a farm in the southeast of Saskatchewan, describes a desperate country, one that warps morals and forces people to murder and steal for survival. The people of Sudan hunger and thirst, always.

While the Sun is Above Us juxtaposes a white woman from Canada, Sandra, and a tribal Dinka woman from Southern Sudan, Adut. They are both around the same age, about 28-30, but that is essentially one of their few commonalities. Sandra’s life, by comparison to Adut’s, is one of luxury, despite going through a bad break-up and a bout of wanting to ‘find’ oneself. I don’t mean to be flippant in describing Sandra, but her problems are laughable (though touchingly told by Schnell) compared to Adut. Adut is the mother of several children. A proud Dinka woman, Adut lives with her husband and the rest of her family members in mud huts in a village in Southern Sudan. The war, escalating and moving closer to them, threatens to destroy Adut’s family and their meagre possessions. The war finds them. Adut is taken from her village, watches the murder of many, and loses her husband and children. She is taken to the North and made a slave for eight years. Adut is regularly beaten and raped, and bares the children of her victimizer. Sandra, needing to discover a meaningful purpose, decides to volunteer

in Sudan after reading a magazine article on the conflict. She takes the article clipping with her, wanting to somehow meet the woman in the photo on the page. While the Sun is Above Us is nightmarish and dense in its language and descriptions. I’m reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Lawrence Hill’s The book of Negroes. While the Sun is Above Us is a survival story set in a dark place and time. The characters’ small triumphs—a sip of cold water or the taste of fruit—cause existential joy as we read them. And then, like the executioner pulling the noose, Schnell tests our trust, fills us with fear. Characters are deceptive and greedy, all in the name of survival. Good deeds are made suspicious during war. Finally, I must say, While the Sun is Above Us has one of the best endings I have read. Schnell’s build-up draws the reader closer and closer, until the final unforgettable and captivating conclusion. FLEW

While the Sun is Above Us Author: Melanie Schnell Publisher: Freehand Books




Profile for Fine Lifestyles

FineLifestyles Estevan & Weyburn March/April 2013  

Exclusive look at the entertainment, beauty, health & wellness industries in Estevan and Weyburn Saskatchewan.

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Exclusive look at the entertainment, beauty, health & wellness industries in Estevan and Weyburn Saskatchewan.