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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A story told by 5 women, a mother and her 4 daughters, who are taken by Nathan Price (husband and father) into the Belgian Congo in 1959. He wants to take the Gospel to the natives, regardless of the cost for himself or his family. They arrive and are sent to a small village where they are the only white people - a vast difference from the life they knew in Georgia. The story begins in 1959 and continues through 1986 and beyond, telling the story of how each family member is strongly affected and changed by Africa. Nathan is horrified by trauma he experienced during the war, and because of this he runs through life, pushing himself to make a difference, to save lives to make up for his 'sin' and demands moral goodness and obedience from all the women in his life - to some how atone for his past.

There are four sisters: Rachel, the oldest; Leah and Adah who are twins; and Ruth May. Rachel likes pretty things and wishes for an easy life, and never adjusts to living in a village without so many comforts that she knew before. Leah is intelligent and adores her father until something happens and suddenly she can't get far enough away from him, but she asks questions and doesn't want to live a certain way just because she has been told to, but wants to know truth and to keep learning. Adah was born with a defect, and walks with a limp and sees the world differently. Her reflections are filled with palindromes and doubt and disbelief and comments her father would never allow, but in some ways she sees much more clearly than any of her family members. Ruth May is young, stubborn, and quite good at getting what she wants out of life, even taking what she wants if it isn't given, and finding things to enjoy. After a tragic event, each woman goes a different direction: one to eventually own a hotel in another African country; another to marry an African and face harsh life and dangerous political events her whole life; another to become a doctor seeking cures for dangerous diseases; another to plant gardens and mourn their losses and ache for the land where so much happened. Orleanna, the mother, has a chapter at the beginning of each section. She is speaking to another character in the book, and also to the reader. Kingsolver compares Orleanna to Africa, which makes sense. Orleanna was married to a husband who cared so much for himself that he only thought of her to be angry or to demand something or to chastize her. Many political events in Africa take place as these women live through history, but the villagers who make up most of the population of Africa are largely unaffected. They continue on with their hard lives, trying to survive as famine and flood and plenty take their turns in the conditions of Africa. A people and a continent which has been beaten and taken for granted and used - but which still manages to survive and to have something worthwhile and beautiful to offer to the world. Kingsolver plays with words and images in beautiful ways. Adah's chapters were probably my favorite, with their slightly 'skewed' perspective and word plays. She and Leah learn the language of the village the most quickly, and find odd links. The same word can mean three or four different things depending on how it's pronounced, which means that when their father preaches or talks, he often miscommunicates - saying something quite different than what he intended. This is definitely a commentary on missionaries and those who go abroad, seeking to carry God's truth. In the various examples of words and meanings and concepts in this new language, there are some beautiful comparisons to Biblical truths - but nathan was completely unaware of these and totally unwilling to recognize them, had he seen them. It is easy for people to be so stuck to their own culture and way of viewing Scripture that they are blind to any other culture or facet of truth. This is painful to see and to hear of. Someone told me that one of the most important things a missionary can do is pray not to be an obstacle to the Gospel they preach, as they miscommunicate with language and culture. Only by the grace of God is Truth shared and learned from others - of the same culture, let alone others with a different culture and language.

Title:The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Date published:1998
Genre: Fiction
Number of pages: 543
Notes: recommended by jude & diane


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