An illuminating debut novel following three women in sub-Saharan Africa
as they search for home and family
Leona, an isolated American anthropologist, gives birth to a baby girl in a remote Maasai village and must decide how she can be a mother, in spite of her own grim childhood. Jane, a lonely expat wife, follows her husband to the tropics and learns just how fragile life is. Simi, a barren Maasai woman, must confront her infertility in a society in which females are valued by their reproductive roles. In this affecting debut novel, these three very different women grapple with motherhood, recalibrate their identities and confront unforeseen tragedies and triumphs.
In beautiful, evocative prose, Adrienne Benson brings to life the striking Kenyan terrain as these women’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways. As they face their own challenges and heartbreaks, they find strength traversing the arid landscapes of tenuous human connection. With gripping poignancy, The Brightest Sun explores the heartbreak of loss, the struggle to find a sense of belonging and the surprising ways we find our family and home.
Adrienne Benson’s earliest memories include roasting green mangos over bonfires in Lusaka, Zambia, climbing walls to steal guavas from the neighbors, and riding in the back of a VW van for weeks on end, watching her mom and dad navigate African border crossings and setting up campsites among thieving monkeys and vocal lions. A US Aid worker’s daughter, she grew up traversing sub-Saharan Africa, finding homes in Zambia, Liberia, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. At sixteen, she made the hardest border crossing of all —the one that brought her “home” to America—a country she barely knew.
She’s been a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, lived in Ukraine and Albania, slept in more airports than she can count and is now happily ensconced in Washington, DC, with her three kids. Her writing has appeared in Buzzfeed; Huffington Post; the Washington Post; Brain, Child; the Foreign Service Journal; ADDitude magazine; and several anthologies. The Brightest Sun is her first novel.
by Adrienne Benson (Nepal 1992-94)
Adrienne Benson’s Peace Corps Story
Before becoming an author, Adrienne served as a Peace Corps volunteer high in the mountains of Nepal. We talk about her service and her new book, The Brightest Sun.
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served as an English teacher and teacher trainer in Nepal, from 1992-1994.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
Well, Nepal is a beautiful place, and I was lucky to live in a little village up in the Annapurna Himalaya foothills. The people were wonderful, and so I think my favorite memories are those day-to-day ones — sitting on my steps in the morning drinking tea and watching the fog lift off the valley below me, laughing and gossiping with the other women while we washed our clothes at the village tap, taking walks along the ridge line with my Nepali sister in the evenings and seeing the peaks of Machhapuchchhre in the distance. And the food. The food! It was simple, village food — rice and lentils twice a day and, when we were lucky, Water Buffalo milk to pour on top, but I developed a sever addiction, which I still wrestle with!
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
Being sick. I had all the usual PC illnesses, plus salmonella, and typhoid, and then I broke my leg in three places. I had to make my way from my village to Kathmandu via a man carrying me on his back, then on horseback, then taxi to the airport, then luggage cart from airport to plane. It took two solid days. Actually, it’s kinda funny to remember now.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
I miss the luxury of time. I was there before cellphones (!) and so once I was in my village there was so much time to think and read, and just hang out talking to people. That’s something we just don’t get much of in the States.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
That there is ALWAYS enough to share. It’s a trite, overused expression, maybe, but I learned the poorest of the poor are always offering what they have to others. That’s something all Americans should learn to embrace.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
“Caasto duka cha!” In Nepali, it basically means, “Oh, what trouble!” and it’s used for everything – from doing homework being too much trouble, to terrible things like bad crops. I still use it in my daily life — when my kids ask for snacks and I’m feeling lazy —“caasto duka cha,” to taking the dog for a walk when its raining. It’s a great catch-all term for things that are kind of a pain in the a$$.