If you've read Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, please comment with your own thoughts & opinions. If you haven't read the book you can skip this post to avoid spoilers, or alternately feel free to judge this book by it's cover. ;)
Wow, this book was incredible. I loved the way Kingsolver told the story from the perspectives of each of the women (girls). She does an incredible job of giving each of the women a different voice. As difficult as it was for me to decipher Adah's voice I really loved it. For all her slant, she was the most straight shooting. Nathan Price doesn't get his own voice in the novel, but I'm okay with that. It seems like he's the only member of the family who gets a voice outside the home - at least for the first half of the book.
Two parts I found especially striking - when the ants swarm and start attacking, and when the villagers set fire to the hill to hunt the animals. Both were on the one hand inhuman tragedies, and on the other hand absolutely necessary for survival. Safe in my apartment with hot & cold running water & a refrigerator full of food, actually being in a situation like that is incomprehensible to me. For all my college degree and technical expertise, I would be completely unprepared to face either of those situations. Kill or be killed. My life is so far removed from this most basic principles of life. Adah echos this lesson at the end when she talks about studying viruses:
"We and our vermin all blossomed together out of the same humid soil in the Great Rift Valley and so far no one is really winning. Five million years is a long partnership. If you could rise up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human, and virus as equally resourceful beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa. Back in your skin, of course, you'll shriek for a cure." (p.529)
So that was one big theme that struck me, the balance between life & death.
The other major theme is, of course, religion. Nathan Price brings his own brand of God. While he is described as Baptist, I think it's pretty clear that his mission was not exactly sanctioned by the church, and he's pretty far off the deep end of theology.
(In the interest of full disclosure let me admit that once upon a time, in fact on my second date with my High School boyfriend, I stood up in church signifying my willingness to be called as a missionary one day. Good times... good times.)
I hate his character more than I've ever hated a fictional character, more than Snape even. ;) Kingsolver does a pretty good job of painting him as an incredibly arrogant and delusional person. A poisonous combination indeed. I liked that she gave him a little depth, we know why he is the way he is. But I still don't like him!
Orleanna Price is not an altogether sympathetic character. In some ways, she's the classic trapped wife, she's been isolated from friends and families, completely removed from any support network she might otherwise have had. But I still think she had a few opportunities to escape before she lost her child. I'm glad that she did eventually leave, and in the end tried her best to secure the safety of her remaining children. But in the aftermath, she does redeem herself somewhat. She becomes an activist and does what she can to work for justice, and to take care of what's left of her family.
Leah probably does the best job of adapting to her situation, initially by learning to hunt, learning the language, working in the schools etc., then of course by marrying Anatole. It's interesting though that as much as she adapts to Africa, she will forever remain an outsider. She'll always be the white girl while in Africa, but she can never really come home again either.
Then there's Rachel...as really horrid as she seems, I can't avoid the fact that she is really the everywoman. Her concerns are no different than mine if I'm honest. I worry about frizzy hair, and what to wear. It's an important part of our culture, as much as we try not to get sucked up by it.
And poor little Ruth May, so sad. The sacrificial lamb I guess.
All in all, an incredible book, which gave me a lot to think about, not the least of which - the US foreign policy, and such a cheerful topic it is. :(
Between reading The Poisonwood Bible and watching the rest of the Roots DVDs, I've got a double dose of White People are the Root of All Evil. I know we do a lot of bad things... but I have no idea how to fix it all. I do what I can.
Anyway after all that doom & gloom... I started rereading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the nice little book with "Don't Panic" written on it in big friendly letters. It's cheering me up nicely. Such a deliciously absurd book.
Opinions on the Poisonwood Bible/missionaries/Africa/anything? I'd be interested to hear what other people got out of the book.