|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Genre: Literary Fiction, Postcolonial
Start Date: Dec. 13, 2010
Finished Date: Dec. 30, 2010 (17 days)
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: The number of positive reviews, number of times it appears on favourite book lists, even the title struck me as too fascinating to pass up.
Summary: A Southern American family consisting of an evangelist Baptist minister, his harried wife, and four daughters, each woman contributing her viewpoint to the story, as they struggle to settle their missionary work in the Congo.
By the end of this book, I wondered two things: why I had put off reading it so long and why it hadn't secured a place on the reading list for postcolonial studies, a course I took in university & read many great works of fiction in, recounted in my Harking Back series of posts on books read in school (year 3 of university in this case) here.
It is difficult to write from one perspective, let alone five, which Kingsolver accomplishes gently, yet securely, allowing a bold, complicated story be woven from the distinct viewpoints of the Price women: Orleanna, the always meant-to-be-well-meaning matriarch run ragged by her husband's extremism in converting Kilanga natives to Christianity; Rachel, the oldest daughter, whose bloated ego and outright disgust with African existence, comes to think of herself as a sacrificial maiden who buys into commercial enterprise to survive; twins Leah and Adah, identical in appearance & both fiercely intelligent, find independence in their separate voices (Leah, at first eager to please her demanding father and willing to be a servant of God through him, becomes loyal to the culture & people of Kilanga; Adah, spending her childhood mute by choice & discriminated against for having a hemiplegic condition that alters her thinking into a palindromic, poetic mindset; and Ruth Ann, the youngest daughter whose innocence & child-play is a symbol of inter-cultural community that her family struggles to accept for themselves.
I felt particularly connected to Leah as her perspective changed from rigid, unquestionable obedience of her father, going along with his unchanged vision of whitewashing the Congo, to a realization of pre-existing beliefs, lifestyles & knowledges that she not only accepts but embraces and learns to adopt for herself. Adah was certainly an interesting perspective to read with her fascinating use of palindromes; however I didn't really connect with her character until closer to the novel's end when she decided to go into medicine and I felt so proud of her, yet sympathized with the sacrificial parting of her language as she became "cured."
Race, religion, culture, spirituality, acceptance, hope, bravery, favouritism, evangelism, language, power, greed, sacrifice, selfishness, selflessness, history, education, postcolonialism...There are countless themes put under the microscope, presenting prickly, heated moments of indifference and intolerance. No novel that explores one of these themes, let alone all of them, is without tragedy and disturbing relevations of human corruption. Many events in the story are incredibly powerful & often deeply disturbing, but for every tragic occurence, there is a renewed sense of purpose, a re-evaluation of self that propels characters to take a risk, making self-transformation a hopeful solution to untangling the knots of their past that prevented any kind of change.
In reading this novel, I've discovered an author that I will not only continue to follow, but would read anything by. Barbara Kinsolver is the kind of author you would be pleased to read if she published a cereal box. The substance & depth of her writing is extraordinary.
If you have not read The Poisonwood Bible, you need to bring yourself to do it. When you do, please let me know what you thought of it. It's an excellent choice for a book club discussion!
Rank: (A+)- Must-read, Highly recommended