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the Complete Review
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The Gravity of Sunlight

Rosa Shand

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To purchase The Gravity of Sunlight

Title: The Gravity of Sunlight
Author: Rosa Shand
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 239 pages
Availability: The Gravity of Sunlight - US
The Gravity of Sunlight - UK
The Gravity of Sunlight - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : artful evocation of expat life in Uganda around 1970

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A 18/6/2000 Margot Livesey
The Washington Post . 18/8/2000 Carolyn See

  From the Reviews:
  • "(P)art of the pleasure of -- and the power -- of this novel comes from the elliptical fashion in which so much information is conveyed. We see Uganda and learn about its customs in a sidelong, glancing way. Except for Agnes, the characters are treated in the same fashion. Shand reveals them in fits and snatches, a technique that could be alienating but only makes them seem more real." - Margot Livesey, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(Shand's) characters remain utterly sympathetic no matter how deluded they become." - Carolyn See, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Rosa Shand's diaphanous novel is set in Uganda, leading into the time when Idi Amin took over (1971). The novel centers around Agnes. She is married to John. They are a young American couple (she is barely over thirty) who came to Uganda to teach. They live in Kampala with their three young children.
       Shand presents Agnes' story obliquely, concentrating on the small details around which the larger picture then forms. The book's chapters are short, and most are titled as being about something specific: "On Darkness", "On Disseminating John Milton", "On the Need for a Nile Hotel". The chapters begin with short, almost introductory sections, many written in the second person. The prose is often brief and abrupt, with sentences of only a single or a few words. Style matters a great deal to Shand: presentation is a big part of this carefully crafted novel.
       Agnes and John's marriage is no longer the happiest. Agnes finds herself attracted to another man, and begins an affair. Agnes and John's domestic life falls apart, much as Uganda falls apart around them.
       There are a number of interesting characters in the book, including Prudence. Agnes tries to teach her (reading Milton's Paradise Lost with her, for example) and discovers her hidden talent for painting. Prudence ultimately decides not to pursue her obvious talent, one of Agnes' many failures. (Agnes herself is trying to write a play for the school she teaches at, with the unpromising working title The Potter and the Shadow of Death.)
       Shand does Uganda fairly well. She has lived in the country, and is able to evoke both the country and the people well.
       Shand writes ... well. It's arty writing, straining for effect. She is quite good at it, so sometimes the effect is there. The deceptively simple scenes do build to more than one initially expects, and Shand has crafted a decent novel -- but it still seems strained.
       Tastes differ, and such writing surely will appeal to many. We found the style fairly enervating, and the story not quite enough to make it worth our while. There's talent at work here, but it goes in a direction we do not much like.

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Reviews: Other books set in Uganda under review: Other books under review that may be of interest:

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About the Author:

       American author Rosa Shand has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a Professor of English at Converse College.

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