Sophie and the Rising Sun

Augusta Trobaugh

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Augusta Trobaugh

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Sophie and the Rising Sun Summary

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Sophie and the Rising Sun (2001) is a slice-of-life novel by American author Augusta Trobaugh. Set in Georgia, in a small fictional town called Salty Creek, it follows two main characters, Mr. Oto and Sophie, in late autumn 1941, just days before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The story is told by Miss Anne, Sophie’s best friend from childhood. Miss Anne serves as the moral compass of Salty Creek and the moral ground for the story itself. The novel received critical acclaim for its vivid characterization of a momentous event in World War II, showing its ripple effects in rural communities thousands of miles away.

The novel opens several weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sophie is a spinster who has spent most of her adult years caring for her mother and two aunts, all of whom are in cognitive decline. Several flashbacks illuminate Sophie’s relationship with her mother back before her memory started to fade. She was a domineering and pessimistic mother well into Sophie’s adulthood, telling her frequently, “Nothing lasts, so no use in getting started with it.” It is implied that Sophie’s mother had once fallen in love with a man who was drafted, then killed, in World War I. Her dark past is often the subject of neighborhood gossip between the bored housewives.

Whenever she is not busy caring for her mother, Sophie practices oil painting, harvests crabs from the traps in a lake outside town, and attends a book club. Her community perceives her as proper and courteous; nevertheless, because she does not always attend church each Sunday, she becomes a subject of gossip. Leading the charge is Ms. Ruth, who is known for her incorrigible habit of talking behind others’ backs.

Part of the plot takes place two years earlier, focusing on Sophie’s neighbor Mr. Oto, a middle-aged Japanese American man. He comes to Salty Creek due to a sudden illness that requires the emergency attention of a local doctor. Initially, he is found on a bus on its way to California, on the verge of death from malnutrition and sleep deprivation. The doctor and his wife learn that Mr. Oto was hoping to make it back to California as soon as possible to reunite with his father and the rest of his family. After Mr. Oto’s emergency treatment, he decides to remain in town, moving into a shed behind the house of Miss Anne, Sophie’s longtime friend. He earns his keep by working in Miss Anne’s gardens. Over the next two years, he becomes known locally as “Miss Anne’s Chinese gardener.”

Eventually, Mr. Oto meets Sophie. They go on Sunday walks along the river, stopping to paint together while the rest of the town is in church. Eventually, they fall in love. Any hope of a private relationship dissolves when the Pearl Harbor bombings occur. After the tragedy, the town views Mr. Oto as suspicious because he has Japanese heritage and keeps quiet. Eventually, Ms. Ruth’s gossip forces him out of town; he goes into hiding in a tiny unoccupied cabin on its outskirts. At the end of the novel, despite their society’s rejection of their relationship, Sophie and Mr. Oto remain in love.
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