Published: July 2005 by Harper Collins
Source: I bought this one at the Goodwill for 99 cents!
Nathan Price, a Baptist minister, decides, against all advice, to take his family to the heart of the Congo in 1959 to spread the word of God. They arrive there, thinking they have everything they need to get started--hammer, boxed cake mixes for birthdays they will celebrate there, and seeds to plant a garden. The only problem is that there is are no nails to hammer, the humidity causes the cake mixes to become rock-like in the box and, although the seeds will grow, they will not put on fruit--there are no bees to pollinate anything. And that is just the beginning of their misunderstanding of the people and ways of the Congo. The story is told from five different points of view--each of the four daughters and the mother and each of them tells their own story about trying to make their way through their time in the village of Kilanga. The oldest, Rachel, steadfastly refuses to learn the ways of the people and thinks only of how to get out of there. The youngest, Ruth May, soon becomes friends with the children. Leah, one of the twins, comes to the Congo determined to win her father's favor and to lead a life lead by the Bible. But she soon finds herself questioning everything she ever believed and learning to understand the subtleties of life in the village. Adah, the other twin, who has been crippled since birth, is the most observant and bides her time spying on everyone, including the pilot who brought them to the village and sometimes spends time in a hut nearby where he has a radio that no one knows about and seems to be plotting something. Kingsolver follows the life of the family during the little more than a year they spent in the village, through tragedy and then back into new lives as she continues to follow them for three decades.
I absolutely loved the first half of this book--the time the family spent in the village. Kingsolver does a marvelous job writing from the various points of view. I'm not sure I've ever read a book where the author did a better job of giving each point of view a unique voice. There was never any doubt, as I read, which girl was telling me that part of the story. And the writing was beautiful. Orleanna's parts are always written from the present looking back and her early parts are haunting.
"Seen from above this way they are pale doomed blossoms bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you'll have to decide what sympathy they deserve, the mother especially - watch how she leads them on, pale-eyed, deliberate."Orleanna struggles with her role as wife and mother. She has never entirely been on board with her husband's religious views but stays on with him, even as he is obviously oblivious to the realities of life, saying he is "well inclined toward stubbornness, and contemptuous of failure." It was hard to imagine a mother allowing anyone to do to her family what Nathan did, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was a different time and place.
"You played some trick on the dividing of my cells so my body can never be free of the small parts of Africa it consumed...It's the scent of accusation."
The second half of the book felt much slower to me, although it covers a vastly greater period of time. Perhaps for that very reason. It lost some of it's in lyricism and depth as it looked into the lives of the women as they plunged through what had happened to them over a more extended period of time. I also felt like it got a bit preachy, not necessarily that what Kingsolver was preaching was wrong, but just that it wasn't right for the novel as it had been going. I wasn't alone in my opinion of this part of the book when my book club met last night. "Preachy" was exactly the word several ladies used to describe a good part of the second half of the book. But Kingsolver still gives the reader much to love in this part.
"But his kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. Whether it's wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them."
"As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn't stop."There is so much going on in this book, so much to think about. Religion, life in another culture and what it takes to try to live in that culture, the history of Africa as the Europeans and Americans came into it. It is a book that will stay with me for a long time and one that I can easily imagine reading again.