in fact, i had been meaning to read The Poisonwood Bible for the past seven and a half years, ever since i found Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer -- also used, lightly worn and on sale for only a couple thousand colones at a second-hand bookstore in el Parque Nacional de Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica, where i was spending a weekend during my own prodigal semester abroad in 2003 and failed to bring along enough beach reading material. Prodigal Summer was amazing, one of the first novels that i would add to my ultimate favorites list. i have a lot of lists. upon finishing PS, i vowed to read the author's first, and better known, novel as soon as possible. somehow i never got around to it until now.
The Poisonwood Bible tells the tale of a Baptist missionary who drags his wife and four daughters along with him to spend a year evangelizing in the Congo -- unbeknownst to him, on the eve of the Congo's first of many civil wars and coups d'etat. i know little about American history, let alone African history and geography, so the foreshadowing through the first half of the book was likely lost on me. i had no idea what hell was coming to the poor white family in the jungle. i'm sure it's all very meaningful and important, in its historical context. to me, the novel ultimately told a different story.
as the lives, health and spirit of the minister's wife and daughters crumble (while other missionaries flee the country for their safety and in order to heed the warnings of U.S. government officials, the minister refuses to give up "the Good Fight"), so does each one's faith in God and in their father. the teenage daughters struggle with inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the Bible that had never bothered them when they were clean and comfortable -- and safe -- in the U.S. suburbs. suddenly life, and the arbitrary rules of the Jesus-God, seemed terribly unfair as applied to life in Africa, from which some of the daughters would never leave.
All my life I've tried to set my shoes squarely into his footprints, believing if only I stayed close enough to him those same clean, simple laws would rule my life as well. That the Lord would see my goodness and fill me with light. Yet with each passing day I find myself farther away. There's a great holy war going on in my father's mind, in which we're meant to duck and run and obey orders and fight for all the right things, but I can't always make out the orders or even tell which side I am on exactly...
If his decision to keep us here in the Congo wasn't right, then what else might he be wrong about? It has opened up in my heart a sickening world of doubts and possibilities, where before I had only faith in my father and love for the Lord.
i haven't become so engrossed in a novel in quite a while. i highly recommend TPB, as well as Prodigal Summer, which is entirely different from TPB, as it is a love story of sorts, set in Kentucky. Prodigal Summer is now back at the top of my To-Read list and will be a welcome relief from civil war and foreign politics. as i pluck the worn, used and used copy off my bookshelf, i see so many dog-eared pages. i can't wait to re-read them. as with all books, i'm sure that it will tell a different story with the next read than it told more than seven years ago.