Category: I had wanted to read this for awhile. Then I saw it at a used bookstore for 50 cents. I had to get it. Also, I just could not get into The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
My thoughts: I really really liked this book. At the beginning of the novel, the Price family comes to Belgian Congo in 1959 at the behest of the patriarch, Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist minister who wants to save souls on the “Dark Continent.” He’s married to Orleanna Price, and they have four daughters: teenagers Rachel, Leah, Adah, and little Ruth May.
Things in the Congo at this time are at a tipping point. The residents are demanding independence from brutal colonizer Belgium. Nationally, revolutionary Patrice Lumumba is gaining followers. Locally, in the village of Kilanga, Reverend Price is struggling. The locals aren’t embracing Christianity—perhaps because Reverend Price (like so many before him) never asked if the Congolese would be interested in converting in the first place. However, he chooses to dig in his heels and try to force the issue of conversion—at the worst possible time, because the political situation in the Congo is about to explode.
The Price family is dominated by the will of Reverend Price, but the story is narrated by the Price women. Rachel, the eldest, is the self-centered one. Leah is the sensible one who wants to be like her father, and her twin sister Adah was diagnosed with hemiplegia as an infant. And then there’s Ruth May, who’s the first one of the Price family to make any sort of connection with the Congolese. Eventually, we find out why Nathan Price is so hellbent on getting his way. But as a character, he’s very much a mystery.
Reading this novel, I was reminded of When We Were Kings, which was set in Zaire, nee the Belgian Congo. The documentary mentions Mobuto, the ruler (dictator, really) of Zaire after independence, but I never really got a sense of how brutal his dictatorship was until reading this book (interesting how it took a work of fiction to bring this to light for me). The novel paints Mobuto as a heartless dictator who perpetuated colonial conditions in a way, and lived in luxury while the residents of his country lived in a state of near starvation.
Once again, I was reminded about how much I abhor the effects of colonialism on the continent of Africa by reading The Poisonwood Bible. Greedy European men decided to carve up the map of Africa, brutalize its residents, and completely plunder its natural resources. It reminds me of the quote from The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” As I stated in the post about Things Fall Apart, the continent of Africa is still reeling from the effects of colonization. But at least The Poisonwood Bible is something of a tribute to the rich history of an African nation.
Great passage: In their locked room, these men had put their heads together and proclaimed Patrice Lumumba a danger to the safety of the world. The same Patrice Lumumba, mind you, who washed his face each morning from a dented tin bowl, relieved himself in a carefully chosen bush, and went out to seek the faces of his nation. Imagine if he could have heard those words—dangerous to the safety of the world!—from a roomful of white men who held in their manicured hands the disposition of armies and atomic bombs, the power to extinguish every life on earth.
Up next: Peter Pan