1.) fascinating characters- some to love, some to hate
2.) captivating plot
3.) great language
4.) interesting setting
But it has so much more! I think this is my fourth reading.
This time, I decided to listen to the audio version. I am not a fan of audio books, but I think this experience made me look at the book in a new way. I saw a broader picture and feel that I saw through to the core of the story.
Religion and politics are two topics that you try to avoid in conversation, but these are the topics that Barbara Kingsolver feels strongly about.
Although she moved to the Congo with her parents when she was seven, it was actually a book that she read that gave her the inspiration for this story. "Endless Enemies" is about the American government backing tyrants in the Third World.
Kingsolver waited thirty years to have the wisdom and maturity to write this book. She talks about her parents- "They brought me to a place of wonders, taught me to pay attention, and set me early on a path of exploring the great, shifting terrain between righteousness and what's right". Kingsolver's family has nothing in common with the Price family except that they lived in the Congo.
There have been people who feel that the novel puts Christian missionaries in a bad light. But this is a cautionary tale- Christian missionaries should not be treating people the way Nathan Price did. He was there to save souls and didn't care about anything else, including the destruction of his own family. The discussion between Nathan Price and his predecessor Brother Fowles shows the great difference between a liberal and a tyrant. What a vast area between these two opposites. Perhaps that is where most missionaries operate. In fact, I have heard that there is a mission board that suggests anyone going into missions should read this book.
I do not find this novel demeaning to Christian mission or Christianity. It is fiction, but it shows the result of self-interest whether in religion or politics.
Nathan didn't pay attention to the different meanings of words. That was, in large part, his downfall. His arrogance did not allow him to listen to anyone.
He often said, "Tata Jesus is bangala". The word bangala can mean most precious, but it also means most insufferable and also poisonwood, depending on inflection.
Adah: "I am born of a man who believed he could tell nothing but the truth, while he set down for all time the Poisonwood Bible".
Two new thoughts came to me on my fourth reading:
1.) Since I have been reading about the brain, I realize that trauma to the head can cause brain injuries and, thus, change behaviour. Nathan had a head injury from the war and possibly that damage contributed to his unruly behaviour. I know it is fiction, and the author wanted to show the arrogance of 'some missionaries', but I am giving Nathan Price the benefit of the doubt.
2.) I think Kingsolver did go on too long about the history of Africa and the way that other countries have taken advantage and treated African countries poorly. She did a great deal of research and I'm sure that her facts are right and she does certainly make a point. But the last hundred pages are more lecture than novel.