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by Dustan Hlady on Sunday, January 11, 2015

Never read a good book and a popular book at the same time.

It will depress you. It depressed me.

I read…

while the sun

…while at the same time reading…


I think I could have enjoyed Gone if its shallow, lackluster flaws weren’t made evident under the black light of While The Sun Is Above Us. The depression sets in when I realized that Schnell, a successful Can Lit author, will never sell as many books as Patterson, who is the #1 bestselling author in the world.

Patterson, is successful because before he became a writer he was a brilliant advertiser that took risks to promote his books and did things other people weren’t doing. He was the first person to advertise his books on TV. He even recently has succumbed to making his books look like other books that are popular so that people will accidentally purchase his lesser works.  This is why I got Gone in my Christmas stocking and not

gone girl

Maybe you remember this tactic from the days of video rental stores. You asked your Dad to rent:


but he brought home:


Also Patterson pumps out books like a machine, far more efficient than Stephen King. Presently he writes mostly synopses and hires ghost writers to fill in the blanks and actually write the book.

Schnell, on the other hand, carefully crafted While the Sun Is Above Us  for  years. She lived in Sudan for a year to research the novel and this is why she is able to construct such a believable world with characters stitched together from her year of interaction with the people of Sudan.

In While The Sun Is Above Us, Adut, a Sudanese woman,  looks into a fire the night before she is abducted.



In Patterson’s Gone, Agent Parker is not backing down from the Mexican drug-lord terrorists. He recalls 9/11 as he talks to his love interest.


And Patterson is the millionaire.

Melanie and I sat down and chatted about her book. You can listen to our conversation here:



When writing a novel in a non-western setting you have to balance describing a new culture and depicting what is interesting and unlike North American culture while at the same time finding the universal themes in humanity North American readers can relate to.



In the novel, Adut, a Dinka woman becomes a literal slave but through much of the narration she is not. In her non-slave narration, it is difficult for her to lead a free life, in that she has full say on the direction her life takes. She has no say in who she marries and what her place in life will be. The men in her life are not chauvinists, they are kind men who are part of a system that does not work for Adut.

This made me think about how free anyone is. No one reading this article is a literal slave but it is rare, even in rich, privileged countries like Canada, for anyone to have the freedom to live the life they want. Which is probably good because a nation where everyone gets to do whatever they want with their lives would consist of a lot of people wasting their lives on beaches and margaritas. We all know what it means to have circumstances pressed on us, lives we never wanted for ourselves. The artist who works a mind-numbing job at a call-centre because painting pictures of curvy women doesn’t pay the bills or the 7-11 worker trying to save for university while supporting a family will likely relate, both giving a lifetime to what they don’t want to do while making the 7-11 and call centre higher-ups rich.



This story takes place during the later part of the second Sudanese Civil War. Adut and her family become people they never thought they would be because of the war. Their circumstances make them do things they would have never done otherwise. It is rare for anyone in North America to know the realities of living in the geography of war (since we outsource). What can be relatable is that the circumstances of our lives have the ability to direct us to become people we never knew we could have become.

Here’s a game: if you are older than 30, think back to who you were ten years ago. Would the ten year ago version of yourself be judgmental of you today? Mine would. If yours would as well, maybe in your own way you could relate to this book.



This novel is made up of two women telling their stories to each other. The title of the novel While The Sun is Above Us is comes from the Sudanese tradition to only tell stories when the sun is down. At night is when the spirits are active and all stories are inspired and told through the spirits of the sky.

I don’t know what time of the day it was when Melanie Schnell typed the manuscript for this novel but I like to imagine her after dark, labouring at a roll-top desk and the spirits twinkling inspiration from the stars, women of Sudan whispering the words that make this novel such a beautiful depiction of the red earth that is Sudan and its people.



Dustan Hlady
dustan j. hlady is the founder of Middle of Nowhere music and sings and writes songs for his band, Friend Friend.