Angel Corey and Isaiah High were inseparable childhood friends despite the difference in the color of their skin. Their daddies fought together in WWI, where Angel's father believed he received a vision from God that all men were equal in His sight. Following the war, Angel's daddy opened a store outside his small Texas hometown that primarily served the African Americans in the community. Many nights their two families would talk, laugh, and enjoy each other's company while Angel and Isaiah played together and shared their love of books. Even as a boy, Isaiah knew he wanted to marry Angel, but his father sternly warned him against saying anything of the sort to anyone. Talk like that in their town could get a black man killed, and eventually, the prejudice did take his father's life. As they grew older, Angel and Isaiah spent less and less time together, knowing that it was not only improper but dangerous.
After Isaiah was beaten by racists just because she'd smiled at him, Angel's father talked him into leaving town and joining the army. Isaiah was shipped out to Europe where he fought in WWII. The horrors of war shook Isaiah's faith and dampened his spirits, but Angel's letters gave him strength and courage to keep going. After being treated with respect by the British and other Europeans, Isaiah nearly vowed never to return home again, but an errand for an old friend, and his desire to see Angel one more time won out, bringing him back to Texas once more. When the pair finally see each other again, they try to fight their feelings, knowing that a real relationship is all but impossible, but neither can deny their love for long. Passion burns hot between them, but the bigoted bullies within the town will stop at nothing to drive Angel out of business and may end up killing one or both of them in the process.
I absolutely love Barbara Samuel's stories of forbidden love, and now that I've read The Sleeping Night, I have yet another one to add to my keeper shelf. Ms. Samuel is one of the most talented authors I know at writing interracial tales of seemingly impossible love. She is also one of the best at conveying a deep sense of yearning between her characters that makes me as the reader want to weep with joy when they finally come together and get their HEA. I like how she expresses the connection between the hero and heroine through longing looks, the barest of touches and shared words. The words are particularly important to this book because a large part of it is told in an epistolary format. It was Angel's letters that gave Isaiah the strength to keep going in the midst of the horrors of WWII, and he in turn had someone with an open and listening heart to whom he could write about both the good and the bad things he'd witnessed. Their letters begin in a friendly way and gradually build into something deeper, even if they can't come right out and say, "I love you." They also share their appreciation of words through the books they both love so much. All the book references were wonderful, as well as how the pair still maintain their individuality by enjoying different types of books.
Angel is a rather plain young woman with the heart of a lion. She married one of her childhood friends just two weeks before he shipped out to fight in the war and was widowed mere months later. Deep down, it wasn't her husband that she truly loved though, but Isaiah, who had been her best friend and constant companion throughout most of her life. Angel is a kind, caring person with a strong and loving faith in God. She was extremely well brought up by a daddy who had an epiphany during his own wartime experience where he believed that Jesus came to him and told him that He loved everyone equally no matter the color of their skin. When Angel's father returned from the war, he opened a store where he primarily serves the black people on the "wrong side" of his small Texas hometown, and Angel has been helping him since she was a little girl. Angel is a free-spirited young woman with a vivid imagination. She loves to go barefoot and be outside in nature and has an affinity with animals. The little injured bird she tamed is really cute. She is also a talented cook and adores children, longing for some of her own, but for now, settles on teaching her Sunday School class. Angel is a generous soul, always doing for others, but she suffers prejudice of her own, both for her decision to live alone and keep running the store after he father passes away and for her sympathy toward the African Americans in the community.
Isaiah has loved Angel since he was a little boy. He even told his father that he was going to marry her someday, which earned him a stern reprimand, because in that era, even a little boy who was black saying something like that about a white girl could get himself killed. I could really sense Isaiah's pain and frustration over the racism that was rampant in Texas and the entire South at that time. It was the prejudice that had taken his father's life, and even after returning home from fighting in the war, Isaiah was still treated like a second-class citizen, as though his sacrifice was meaningless. It had been a refreshing change for him to be treated decently by the British and Europeans who weren't bothered by the color of his skin and didn't care much for America's segregation debate. Isaiah had all but vowed never to return home, but an errand for old acquaintance and the call of his heart for Angel brought him back to the same hateful, bigoted Texas he'd wanted to leave far behind. Isaiah obviously cares very deeply for Angel and is frustrated by not being able to express his feelings because of the danger it could put them both in, but underneath his anger over not being able to claim the woman he loves, Isaiah is a gentleman with a scholarly side. He treats his mother with great respect, and loves children every bit as much as Angel does. He is also a very talented builder.
It's obvious that Isaiah and Angel are prefect for each other, which is why as a reader it was a little bit frustrating that they couldn't be together sooner. I understood that Isaiah and Angel couldn't touch or even interact very much because of the danger they faced from racists, but it does make the early part of the story move a little slow. I was absolutely dying for them to just brush in passing or maybe think of one another in more overtly romantic terms, which would have built a little more sexual tension. Even now though, I can't decide if this was a weakness of the story or pure genius on the author's part, because it appeared that Isaiah and Angel were trying to avoid even thinking of each other in that way, knowing how impossible their love would be. When they finally do touch, it's a very emotional moment, but it still takes a while for things to build between them. When the first love scene finally happens, it was utterly beautiful.
Overall, The Sleeping Night was yet another beautiful story from Barbara Samuel's fertile imagination. It was one of the earliest books she wrote, but at the time, there was no market for it. I'm so glad that her significant other encouraged her to dust it off, give it an overhaul, and get it published. It's definitely a refreshing and welcome addition to the romance genre that I highly recommend.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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