The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, has been on my TBR pile for such a long time that I'd almost forgotten about it. It was only when I heard Maureen Corrigan reviewing Kingsolver's latest book that I felt a sudden, dire need to read the first book. And shame on me, but I have two more novels by this author that I'd picked up years ago and haven't touched. I might be a hoarder.
Barbara Kingsolver's first novel is indeed riveting and thought-provoking. In 1960, Nathan Price, a Baptist minister from Georgia, takes his wife and four daughters on an ill-advised trip to The Belgian Congo, with the hope of spreading the word of Jesus. Unfortunately, Rev. Price is too arrogant to look and listen to what is going on around him. While his daughters and wife are picking up the local language and having life-changing revelations, he is stubbornly trying to baptize people who have valid reasons for fearing the idea of being dunked in the water. So much is lost in translation, and his daughters and wife know this, but can't reach a man who has become despicable and abusive.
The most powerful thing about this novel, for me, was that the fear and desperation felt by Oleanna and her daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May was not lost in translation. When it becomes obvious that they really should leave, their father refuses, so they are stuck. At this point, the story gets downright scary, and this story becomes an urgent read. I dreaded the future for all of them. They are no longer getting any outside help, they have no money, and Rev. Price is not popular. Nevertheless, their poor neighbors do what they can for them; no one wants to see them starve.
This situation had to come to a head, and it did so with a tragedy; poor little Ruth May, after surviving a prolonged illness with malaria, is killed suddenly by a poison snake. I worried about Ruth May the whole time, but this turn of events was a shock. At this point, Orleanna is compelled to act drastically. She feels guilty for so much. With strength she never had before, she drags all their possessions out of their house for the neighbors to pick through, gathers her daugthers and what little she needs, and they make the long, long trek to Leopoldville on foot, where somehow, someway, they will make it out of there. None of them even glance back at Nathan Price.
The Price family is never to be together again, and its members are deeply changed. Each of the three surviving daughters builds a life around what they have taken away. It is not even possible to imagine what their lives would have been, had they stayed in Georgia.
The Poisonwood Bible is about so many things! The corrupt, greedy European and American powers that purposely keep African nations in debt, that set up puppet governments that they can control, and imprison anyone for speaking out against them. The arrogant missionaries and businessmen who use the Congolese people for their own purposes, and of course the appalling racism. Personally, for the Price women, the religion that was the centerpiece of their lives before looks different to them now.
It's a powerful tome. My only criticism is that some parts at the end of the book seem to be longer than they should be, so that the pace felt like it was dropping from urgent to languid. However, I thought the ending, with Ruth May's voice, was very effective. This is a very important story and I'm glad that I finally read it.
In other news, we have a new pet! She lives in the garage. Mike feeds her peanut butter every day, in the bottom of a springloaded trap. As long as we keep her fed, I think that she will not try to get into the house.
This reminds me of a Beatrix Potter story, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, in which Hunca Munca (pictured above, wearing clothes stolen from the Lucinda doll) and her husband, Tom Thumb, steal all kinds of stuff from a dollhouse. Tom finds coins to leave in the doll's Christmas stockings and Hunca Munca comes every morning to sweep the dollhouse, and thus they are redeemed. And they avoid the mousetraps the Nurse puts out for them.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Have a great Sunday! It's beautiful out there, around here.