I came across this book on NetGalley by mere chance. I was intrigued by the setting and the premise so I requested it. It wasn’t an easy book to read but the story was riveting and very romantic.
The Sleeping Night is set in Texas just after WWII but it goes back in time through the character’s memories and a series of letters that the hero and heroine exchanged during his time in the war.
Isaiah and Angel were best friends while growing up. Angel’s dad was a progressive man who didn’t mind setting up a store that sold goods to the black part of their small town. His quiet nature and his own experiences during WWI, made him open and close to the black men and women in town, Isaiah’s father in particular. So they grew up together and their connection ran deeper than that of a mere childhood friendship. But it’s an impossible relationship so he joins the military. It will take war, tragedy and love for them to reunite, explore what could be and maybe have a second chance.
I thought this book has a lovely romance and an honest, albeit painful, portrayal of the time period. It wasn’t easy to read, not only because of the violence and hatred endured by Isaiah and his family, but also because his memories of the war were terrible. The reason he comes back is because a woman in town writes to him asking if he can help her find her sister’s family. He finds the only survivor, a woman who barely survived the camps but whose entire family and friends, her fiancé included, were murdered. The whole time I kept thinking about all the people who actually lived through this.
The romance develops slowly. These are not your typical star-crossed lovers. Angel never puts a name to her feelings and she even marries one of their friends just after Isaiah goes to war, but her husband dies soon after. Isaiah, on the other hand, has always known how he felt about her. In fact, one of the many times the book made me cry was when he remembers being a kid and announcing that one day he was going to marry Angel, and how his parents were terrified by this and made him promise to never say such a thing again. They remained in touch through letters that kept them sane, but the last year he stopped writing and their relationship suffered from it. When the book starts, he’s only temporarily in town because after living in Europe he can’t go back to the way things are in the South. So starting a relationship with Angel is not in his plans.
Angel isn’t particularly interested in a relationship either, and she has bigger problems to deal with. Her father died and now she’s in charge of the store. But she’s a woman and it isn’t proper to have her own business, especially one that caters to blacks. One of the most powerful men in town is relentlessly pursuing her and won’t take no for an answer. Her house is falling down and money is short. But she also spends time with Isaiah and while they rekindle their friendship they realize that even though life and pain has changed them, they still love each other deeply.
Almost the whole book is about Isaiah and Angel coming to terms with their feelings, and just the last part is about how they actually manage to be together. It’s filled with brutality and sadness, but also hope. I honestly didn’t know if they were going to make it because things get ugly at the end (more like uglier). But this is a romance and the happy ending should be part of it, so I promise there’s one. The ending was the weakest part and the most fantastic. The type of luck they get can only be found in fiction. So I guess it’s a bittersweet ending because, once again, I think of all the people who lived through similar situations and didn’t get a happy ending.
My only complaint with the story is that it felt too preachy. God and Church play an important role in the lives of the main characters, and Isaiah, understandably, suffers a crisis of faith of which he recovers nicely. Angel is relentless in her love for God, and religion is an overall theme in the book -- at times subtle, at times in your face. It rubbed me the wrong way, but this is just my very personal take on it.
Overall it was a great story, it drags a bit in the middle and the ending was rushed and too perfect. But I really enjoyed it and I’m happy I read it. Absolutely recommended to everyone.
Review by Brie
An unforgettable romance in an unforgiving time.
They'll need love and courage to see the dawn.
He's a hometown native, returning from the war, determined to change the world he'd fought to protect. She's the girl who's been his secret friend since childhood, now a beautiful woman. Her war-time letters kept him alive. But he's black, and she's white.
In 1946 in Gideon, Texas, their undeniable love might get them both killed.
Bell Bridge Books. June 21, 2012.