Whispers in the Sand
by LaFlorya Gauthier
(One World/Ballantine Indigo Love Stories, $4.99, PG)
ISBN 0-345-42224-4
Can a girl from Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and a guy from Casamance, Senegal, find happiness together? That's the central question in LaFlorya Gauthier's Whispers in the Sand.

Whispers in the Sand is part of an emerging trend in African-American romance novels. It is a love story between an African man and an African-American woman. Others include: Crystal Barbouche's Midnight Skies (Zimbabwean hero) and Chinelu Moore's Dark Storm Rising (Nigerian hero).

Whispers in the Sand is the story of documentary filmmaker Lorraine Barbette and Senegalese diplomat Momar Diallo. Lorraine's career star is on the rise as she lands a dream assignment to produce and direct a cultural film in Senegal, West Africa. Momar feels his diplomatic service career is waning after he's given a succession of lackluster assignments. Lorraine and Momar's first encounter is across a first-class aisle on the flight to Dakar, Senegal's capital. While they do not speak during the eight-hour flight, they are very aware of one another.

Once in Senegal, Lorraine looks up an old classmate from her university days in Montreal who currently is on assignment at the Canadian Embassy in Dakar. Lorraine is, as she says, "behaving like a moonstruck schoolgirl," but that doesn't stop her from grilling her friend about the "disturbingly suave, handsome Senegalese man she had seen on the Air Afrique flight from New York." She had noticed the initials on his briefcase and recalled flight attendant had called him "Monsieur Diallo."

For his part, Momar is equally smitten. He assumed that Lorraine was out of his league because "she had the look of one of those rich African-American women who sometimes traveled to Africa in search of their roots, inspired, no doubt, by the book of the same name." (She was actually bumped to first class.) But when they finally meet at a Canadian Embassy party, their passionate affair begins.

Shortly after, Momar declares his love and utters what is destined to become one of my all-time favorite pick-up lines: "It is as if you and I are predisposed to mix the blood of our ancestors." (Lorraine and I both laughed aloud and asked if he was serious!)

But Lorraine is serious about Senegalese culture -- for her work on the film and for her own personal growth. She is fluent in French and quickly immerses herself in the country's history and culture. Under Momar's tutelage, she learns about family customs and cuisine. They learn they have much in common. Momar is a widower who married as a result of an arranged marriage. Lorraine has barely escaped the Mound Bayou, Mississippi version of an arranged marriage to a childhood friend -- the town's future mayor.

Whispers in the Sand goes beyond the cultural stereotypes that often plague African/African-American romances. Momar and Lorraine are both career driven. She carefully considers the impact a permanent relationship could have on her work. LaFlorya Gauthier goes beyond the predictable to tell the story of two people in love.

Dakar, Senegal is an increasingly popular travel destination. Gauthier has chocked this story full of familiar places: the Slave House at Goree Island, the N'Gor and Teranga hotels, the presidential palace, IFAN Museum, Sandaga Market, Sembedioune, Boulevard de l'Independence and the Club Med. There is a glossary at the end of the book and recipes for some of the Senegalese dishes mentioned in the story. The cultural inaccuracies are minor and don't detract from the novel.

One World/Ballantine has reissued the 1996 novel, first published by the smaller Genesis Press. The novel is now available to more people in the standard 4" x 7" size and at half the original price.

Whispers in the Sand actually part of two emerging trends in African-American romance novels. It is an African/African-American love story. And author LaFlorya Gauthier, who lives in Montreal, is among a growing number of Black romance writers working outside the United States.

If you're looking for what I've come to call a "diaspora romance," read this one first.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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