The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover
Is it possible to get drunk with a book? Through a book? By a book?
“I’m sorry baby, I’m too sad to see you right now.”
This sentence concluded by first Barbara Kingslover journey. Poetizing. Sarcastic. Perfection in imperfections. Life as raw as the arrow shot through the guts of those poor and startled forest animals. Will I ever write something as beautiful as this?
Baby, you will have to wait until I come out of my room after a whole day of swooning over the lost Leopoldville or Bulungu. Or Kongo at that. Zaire, that is.
How much of the red Earth has been covered with cement since the fight of Africa against its white aggressors? No, you are right. It is not about what but how this change transpired. It is about the ruinous hands that spilled barrels of African blood into its own Earth to sustain the organized, smell-lacking, quinine-manufacturing white paradise by the name of America or Belgium. It is about children being robbed of an arm of a leg every day in the far-flung villages of Kilanga or Kinshasa. Oh, it’s malaria-infested regions, crocodile-cradling rivers and the lives that battle death every day just to quench the fire of a gut burning with hunger.
How my perception of Africa changed after this book. Africa, the misunderstood. They transformed from the big-lipped cannibal caricatures to the very faces of survival. Black faces, beautiful. True. The ridiculous became the sensible.
And it takes one hell of a good book to do that.
Kingslover, for me, took the character of Leah. That courageous twin who stayed and saw the history unfold within the unforgiving terrain of Africa. This book, though, is alternately told through the narratives of Adah, Leah’s hemiplegic twin who never talked during the entirety of her childhood; Rachel, the Lucky Strike-smoking dumb blonde who longed for the luxury of the elite West; Ruth May, the innocent voice who drew the metaphysical into simple metaphors of childhood; and Orleanna Price, the mother who endured and lived through the pain of witnessing her family’s destruction after Nathan, her strictly orthodox husband, decided to fly the family to Congo to pay for the sins of his personally-presumed cowardice by spreading The Word. “Tata Jesus is balanga.” Jesus is poisonwood.
I read this after Kincaid with her sad little tale of a Dominican orphan. Maybe that influenced it. That sad little tale that angrily cried from beginning to end. This book read as if hopelessly pleading from start to finish; not whiny. It has an air of resignation to a reality that is far too big or far too old to be changed by present action. It sounds tired, as if all it can ever do to alleviate the pain is to tell the story as accurately as it happened.
And it was well-played. Congo unfolded as Lumumba was elected Prime Minister, killed even before he could effect his visions, replaced by the dictatorial leopard-print headed Mobutu, the quintessential white man’s puppet. Anatole’s arrest, Zaire. The Congo that changed. And Angola. Through it all, the quiet little lives of our characters move, each pounced flat by the oppressing weight of African years, the continent they never really escaped from. Even Adah, who successfully made a name for herself back in quaint mother USA.
Kingslover made sure it sticks. And stuck it more than did! It stubbornly held on that I’m already eying Animal Dreams from my pile of to-reads. Intricately-weaved, believably crafted, insightfully put-together, The Poisonwood Bible is a work of a genius; classic in its own rights – exquisite and unforgettable.