Thursday, June 2, 2011

# 29 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I have put off reading this book for years and years for the same reason that it took me a long time to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. The opening chapter had a lot of foliage, and for some reason, it put me off these books. And also quite like 100 years, I was bitterly regretting putting of reading this book for so long.

The Poisonwood Bible tells the tale of four sisters and their mother, brought to remote Africa (the Belgian Congo, specifically a small village near the Kwilu River [thanks wiki]) by an authoritarian, righteous and controlling minister of a father. The father goes there to collect souls for the Lord. His wife and daughters go along for lack of any other alternatives.

The book is narrated by the wife, Orleanna and their four daughters, haughty, worldly Rachel; eager to please (her father) tomboy Leah; gifted, silent and handicapped Ada; and the spunky baby Ruth May.

Their father's stubbornness and disregard for any opinions other than his own keeps the family in the Congo even after their Church's withdrawal of support and the political upheavals during that period. Despite the danger and imminent starvation, the family soldiers on, all of the girls growing and developing, while the father clings to his beliefs, never bending, or trying to understand the culture of the people he seeks to convert.

I related most to the earnest and probably idealistic Leah. Throughout the story, she grows the most, from blindly idolizing her father, to realizing his faults and standing up for what she believes. Ada, although I feel like I should like her for she is the most intelligent and aware, I cannot relate to. I don't like her constantly thinking that her sisters are dumber than her (although it probably is true).

In any case, the book is heartbreaking. Needless to say, their father's choice of keeping them in Africa leads to great tragedy for the family, and shapes their characters and lives. It is obvious that Kingsolver is passionate about the issue of the abuse if Africa by its conquerors, of the disturbance of their natural order. The book can be seen as a story of a family, but it also provides and insight on the history of the Belgian Congo in that period of time, and its effect on the ordinary people living there.

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