Sophie and the Rising Sun

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Augusta Trobaugh

$12.95 October 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61194-053-4

An unforgettable story of an extraordinary love and a town's prejudice during World War II.


Available in audio book from Audible.com, narrated by Rue McClanahan.

Now a major motion picture.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

In sleepy Salt Creek, Georgia, strangers are rare.  When a quiet, unassuming stranger arrives--a Japanese man with a secret history of his own--he becomes the talk of the town and anew beginning for lonely Sophie, who lost her first love during World War I.

Middle-aged Sophie has resigned herself to a passionless existence.  That all begins to change as she finds herself drawn to the mysterious Mr. Oto.  When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mr. Oto's newfound life comes under siege; his safety, even in Salty Creek, is no longer certain.  Sophie must decide how much she is willing to risk for a future with a man who has brought such joy into her life.

Reviews

[Sophie and the Rising Sun] "suggests the small but heartwarming triumphs made possible by human dignity and courage." -Publisher's Weekly

"Trobaugh has presented us with a story not simply of love, but also one filled with cultural symbolism and folktales, racial prejudices, and a world at war." -- Kimberly Scott, Reading After Midnight Blog

"…an engaging historical thriller that focuses on the impact of war on people and relationships even thousands of miles from the front." -- Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review

"Wonderful- The Help meets Nicholas Sparks…While Mr. Sparks can leave us with a face full of tears, I was left with a smile after reading this book." -- Jenna Anderson, Good Reads


Excerpt

Chapter One

Miss Anne said:

Some folks in this town still think I know what really happened to Sophie—leastwise those folks old enough to remember Pearl Harbor and the terrible days that followed.

Why, to this very day—over twenty years later—once in a while, somebody will say to me, "Miss Anne, you can tell me what really happened to Sophie, now that it’s been so long.”

But I can’t tell them.

Because I was never sure.

And I guess the reason they ask in the first place is that most of us still care about Sophie and want to know that she’s all right.

To be truthful, I guess everybody in town—leastwise those old enough to remember—always felt a little bit bad for Sophie, how she wasted all her youth and beauty—and to be perfectly truthful, there was precious little of the latter—taking care of her mama and those two old aunts. Everybody used to say that one day, Sophie would just up and run off and get married. When she was younger, I mean. But she never did. Guess you have to have a young man to do something like that, and I don’t think there was anyone who was interested in her.

There was a little talk about a beau, just before the Great War—World War One—but most of those boys never came home again. Boyd and Andrew and Henry and others whose names I can’t remember now, so if there was ever someone who was interested in Sophie—and I doubt it—he must have been one of them. It really didn’t matter, anyway, because if anyone had come around about Sophie, her mama and the aunts would have nipped that right in the bud. I’m sure of it.

"Nothing lasts,” her mama used to say. "So no use in Sophie getting started with it.”

Sophie’s mama was always like that. Bitter, in general. And about men, in particular. How on earth she ever agreed to marry any man is beyond me. All I can say is that Mr. Willis must have slipped her some elderberry wine or something. Because they only kept company for about a month or so, and the whole time, everybody in town could hear her berating him in a loud voice, right there on her front porch when he came courting. But he just kept on coming. Sat right there in the swing and smiled off into space while she went into tirade after tirade. Maybe she finally wore herself out.

Mr. Willis was quite elderly, and I guess he’d learned plenty of patience. Of course, Sophie’s mama was certainly no spring chicken herself, by then, but she hadn’t learned anything about patience. Never did, to tell the truth. But I guess one thing that kept Mr. Willis coming around was that he figured it was his last chance to get married.

So—somehow or other—he got her to the church.

Then he took her off on a grand honeymoon trip to New Orleans for two whole weeks, and when he brought her back, she was with child—we found out later. Only about a week after that, Mr. Willis died in his sleep. Left her a well-off widow with a nice, big house. And he left her Sophie, too, though she didn’t realize that right away. And of course, that was certainly some surprise when she found that out. She sent right off to Atlanta for her two old maid sisters—Elsa and Minnie—to come down here to south Georgia and live with her. And they did.

But goodness, what a time they had of it, especially right at first. Because Sophie’s mama must have thought that theywere going to wait on her hand and foot, and those older sisters must have thought the same thing about her waiting on them. Led to an awful lot of fussing and pouting, it did. But eventually, they learned how to get along right well, I guess.

And of course, they were happy about the baby that was coming, so that settled them down a bit. Almost every single evening for months, you could see them sitting together on the porch, crocheting to beat the band—with their heads down and their crochet needles just flashing away. Went at it with a vengeance, they did. Why, by the time that baby was ready to come, they had enough clothes for a whole army of babies! Caps and sacques and booties and sweaters and blankets. But of course, not a single one of them could crochet worth a flip, so the sweaters all had one long sleeve and one short, and the caps would have fit a watermelon, they were so big. And the blankets came out shaped like triangles, for the most part. Still, they did their best, and I guess their hearts were in the right place.

Well, the baby started coming on a Thursday morning—and it turned out to be the longest labor in the history of Salty Creek, Georgia. By Friday night, everybody in town could hear the screaming, and around noon on Saturday, Sophie’s mama was shrieking, "Shoot me! For God’s sake, somebody shoot me!”

I was hardly more than a child myself. Only twelve or thirteen, and my mama made me stay in the back part of our house so I wouldn’t hear any more than she could help. Wouldn’t even let me sit out on the porch.

The doctor came and went at their house until Saturday afternoon, and after that, he never left until the baby finally arrived, around church-time on Sunday. Folks said that when he came out about an hour later, he looked like he’d been run over by a train, he did. Went straight home, his wife said, drank a fifth of bourbon, and slept for two whole days. Later, he told her he’d never seen anything like it. Just flat-out, a little baby that didn’t want to be born. "I had to drag it out!” he said. "And God only knows what-all it was hanging on to!”

Sophie’s mama always said the birth ruined her health. And I guess all the hand-wringing and the hollering and the running into each other the elder sisters did must have taken a toll, too. Because they said the birth ruined their health as well. So that as soon as Sophie could toddle around and understand when they told her to go get their crocheting for them or another pillow to rest their feet on, or a clean hanky, they had her doing everything for them. All the time. Just like she owed them something.

It must have been hard for Sophie, waiting on them hand and foot from the time she was just a little thing. And growing up under the black little bird-eyes of those women. And none of them young. In a house full of medicine bottles and handkerchiefs and smelling salts. And boredom.

That’s why I say that if there was ever a beau for Sophie, they would have nipped that right in the bud. Because they weren’t about to give up the one who ran around and waited on them. Besides, Sophie would have told me if there had been someone. I’m sure of it.

So she never did marry. Just took care of those old ladies and grew older and more faded-looking herself, every single year, what with them getting so elderly and so much more demanding and living for such a long time. And Sophie’s mama, especially, was always hard to get along with. When she got older, she took to doing some strange things, like collecting dead birds she’d find out in the yard from time to time. Take them right inside the house and lay them out on a shelf in the pantry. Such as that.

She was the first one to pass on, Sophie’s mama was, and I always thought somebody ought to have put her on a shelf in the pantry, too—let her see how she liked having that done to her. But of course, they didn’t. Then a few years later, Sophie’s Aunt Elsa passed on. Her Aunt Minnie was the only one left after that, and she was just as senile as a coot for a long time before she finally passed away. Used to sneak out of the house almost every night and wander around in the front yard in her nightgown, calling and calling for her mama. Can you imagine? Sophie never had a whole night’s sleep for all the years that went on, but she didn’t complain about it. Not even to me.

Afterward, when they were all gone at last—her Aunt Minnie passing on only a few months after Mr. Oto came to stay in my gardener’s cottage—folks thought then maybe Sophie would do a little traveling or something like that. But she didn’t. Just went about doing what she’d always done—taking care of the house and tending to her crab traps and painting some pictures down by the river. I guess by then it was too late for much of anything else.

But I’ll say this about Sophie: She was a real lady. One of the few left in this whole town, someone who was raised right—whatever other faults her mama and the aunts may have had. So Sophie always came calling on me—and she was the only one who still kept up that fine old tradition.

I was a little bit older, of course, and I’d known Sophie all her life, knew her better than is usual in small towns like this one, where everybody knows everybody else, anyway. Because when I was a young lady—and already being courted by my late husband—Sophie was just a little girl, and even then, I thought she was very special.

Maybe it had something to do with the way I’d always wanted a sister. Someone younger than me to look up to me and share her little secrets with me. Sophie was the closest I had to that. But of course, her mama didn’t let her get away very often, so it didn’t blossom into a real friendship—like sisters—it could have been. Still, I always thought she was a precious little thing.

I remember one twilight evening when I was sitting in the porch swing, and Sophie came skipping down the road right in front of my house—she couldn’t have been more than six or seven—and waved her fingers at me as she went by. Must have gotten away from her mama for a few minutes. She was wearing a white pinafore and skipping and singing right down the middle of the road, and I thought she looked so pretty that day. And, too, there was something about the way it was, right at dusk, that made me think she looked just like a little white egret, ruffling its feathers this way and that. But if her mama had seen her, she’d have had a fit.

"Keep your skirt down, Sophie!” she would have admonished. "And behave like a lady!” Like I said, whatever other faults Sophie’s mama had, she certainly raised Sophie to be a real lady.

I don’t know why that particular image of Sophie stands out like it does in my mind. But then, we never do know how it’s going to be with us when we get older.

Anyway, when she was just a little girl, Sophie used to come over to my house some afternoons, whenever her mama would let her, and she’d play dress-up, draping herself all over with my scarves, and sometimes, I’d let her put some of my face powder on her nose. Other times, she liked just lying across the front of my bed and watching me mending my silk stockings or making some tatted lace for the pillowcases in my hope chest.

"What’s a hope chest?” she asked me once. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, I remember.

"It’s where you keep all the things you fix up for when you’re a married lady,” I told her.

"Is that what you’re supposed to hope for? Is that why it’s called a hope chest?”

"I think so. And yes, it’s what every young lady hopes for.”

"Not me,” Sophie said in a voice strong with that particular kind of certainty children have.

"Yes—you, too,” I assured her, enjoying the little proclamation she had made. And her absolute confidence in it.

"No,” she insisted. "‘Cause Mama wouldn’t let me.”

"She would if you were a grown-up young lady,” I explained, and then I amended that: "She will when you’re a grown-up young lady.”

"I don’t think so,” Sophie said matter-of-factly.

I was really quite amused at her earnestness about it. As I said, she was such a precious little girl. Other folks may have thought that she was plain-looking, but I always thought it was just that she’d never had a chance to be free. Or happy, maybe.

By the time Sophie was a young lady, I was already married and had a home of my own—this house, built by my late husband’s grandfather, the one who started this whole town. And I think that one of the reasons Sophie particularly like calling on me was because she enjoyed being with someone who really had a life of her own, if you know what I mean. Not just living right in the same house where she was born, like she did. Years later, after my husband passed on and when all Sophie’s old ladies were gone at last, she just kept on coming to call on me anyway.

Such a lady, she was. That’s why I don’t... well, I’m not sure what happened. About two years after Mr. Oto first came to work for me, it was, if I’m remembering it right. Because after all, it was such a long time ago.

Right around Halloween, and nobody knew what was coming to us in that terrible December.

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