Sophie and the Rising Sun – Augusta Trobaugh

I had no idea what to expect from this Netgalley book. I knew the synopsis – basically that a middle-aged spinster forms a friendship, perhaps more, with the Japanese gardener working for a friend right at the onset of America’s involvement in WWII; that could go any number of ways.

The way Sophie and the Rising Sun went was utterly beautiful. Mr. Oto – and that is all I’m going to call him, as his given name deserves the reveal it gets – is a lovely, lovely character, a man who has done a bit of drifting and is mildly startled to find himself fifty years old and gardening in Georgia. Sophie is a woman who has spent her entire life tending to the old ladies in her life, her mother and two elderly aunts, and now that they have all passed on she is doing some drifting of her own, continuing in the same direction like an object in motion remaining in motion without any outside influence. As the two drift together, something happens.

If this had been all there was to the story – a gently growing connection between two people of different races and very different backgrounds – it would have been a good book. Placing a significant step in the growth of the relationship on the morning of December 7, 1947 helped push it over into something beyond good. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor comes, instantaneously, a rage against the Japanese or anyone who might be Japanese which … sadly, which is reminiscent of the backlash against anyone perceived as Muslim in the time right after 9/11. A layer is peeled back from the soft and gentle Southern way of life, and what lies underneath is dangerous. Suddenly the town busybody, Ruth, is more than just a plaguey nuisance: she is a very real threat to not only what is emerging between Sophie and Mr. Oto but to their safety. Theirs, and that of anyone who helps them.

There is a rather Asian feel to the story-telling, elegant and reserved, echoing the description of Mr. Oto’s painting (one of those fictional pieces I’d love to be able to see). This is no ordinary romance novel where two people begin tearing each other’s clothes off twelve minutes after they meet. The romance at its heart is gentler, harking back to older novels in the quiet intensity of feeling. Loved it.

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