Monday, 30 September 2013

Reading: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver


In a departure from my current diet of SF reads, I delved into this story recommended by a friend. It's a very large tome, taking me five long evenings to chew through; yet never was there any temptation to give up.

On the outside, it may appear like the tale of a missionary family in the Congo in the 60's, but it is more than that. It is also a damning, passionate exposé of the harm done by foreign intervention - but it is much more than that. A whirling narrative from five wildly different viewpoints of how Africa changed each heart forever...yet it is so much more than that again.

Language is a tool in the author's hand as she uses it to shape each character. Consider the palindrome-obsessed and poetic Adah, the grammatically challenged Rachel, feisty yet needy Leah.

Here's a sample. It was so hard to choose just one excerpt, so I chose a few, some from near the beginning and the last from near the end. Many are the treasures in this book.

Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink. Any morning, every morning. Blossomy rose-color birdsong air streaked sour with breakfast cookfires. A wide red plank of red - the so-called road - flat-out in front of us, continuous in theory from here to somewhere distant... 
Congo sprawls in the middle of the world. Sun rises, sun sets, six o'clock exactly. Everything that comes of morning undoes itself before nightfall: rooster walks back into forest, fires die down, birds coo-coo-coo, sun sinks away, sky bleeds, passes out, goes dark, nothing exists... 
Backdrop to the Kilanga pageant, rising up behind the houses, a tall wall of elephant grass obscures our view of anything but the distance. The sun suspended above it in the afternoon is a pink, round dot in the distant white haze you may stare at and never go blind. The real earth where the real sun shines seems to be somewhere else, far from here. And to the east of us, behind the river, a rising rumple of dark greek hills folded on each other like a great old tablecloth, recending to pale hazy blue... 
If only a river could go uncrossed, and whatever lay on the other side could live as it pleased, unwitnessed and unchanged. But it didn't happen that way. The Portuguese peered through the trees and saw that the well-dressed, articulate Kongo did not buy or sell or transport their crops, but merely lived in place and ate what they had, like the beasts of the forest. In spite of poetry and beautiful clothes, such people were surely not fully human - were primitive; that's a word the Portuguese must have used, to salve their conscience for what was to come. Soon the priests were holding mass baptisms on shore and marching their converts onto ships bound for sugar plantations in Brazil, slaves to the higher god of commodity agriculture.
There is not justice in this world.
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