Were you like me at the start of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver? Did you wonder, “What have I gotten myself into? This is S-O-O-O-O-O-O long. Is it worth it?” (In my head I spoke in bold.)
Well, it didn’t take l-o-n-g (oh gez, Rachel would say) to answer with a resounding: this is more than worth it. Between the writing, the history lesson, and the peek into a family in our line of work, I go back to what I said in May, this is a must read for us. Or a must-listen-to. Thank you book clubber for the reminder that some books are better listened to :)!
I am going to limit myself to how often I say: “wow!” “Can you believe?” and “This is SO good.” But first, one big WOW. Kingsolver has brilliantly constructed this book. Now that I know the five women, she wouldn’t need to say who was speaking at the beginning of each chapter, she could just say, “Next!” and I think I’d figure it out. The way she has captured the voice, syntax, age, and vocabulary of the five females is stunning. I like the way each section starts with Orleanna’s piece of the story (giving us the grown-up perspective), but then the only ones who speak the rest of the section are the children. And though Nathan never officially has a voice in this book, his presence is everywhere. I wonder what our stories would be like, if only told from the perspective of others?
I love the way Rachel uses phrases she has misheard — and other simple things in life I have took for granite. . . . and here my brand-new tulip-tailred linen suit in Poison Green with square mother-of-pearl buttons was fixing to give up the goat. . . . believe you me, your chances are dull and void.
Can you believe how Adah plays with language? Her ability to use palindromes and read forward and backward in multiple languages just floors me. I nearly laughed when she was making the list for Rachel and Leah and said, “wrote if, for the benefit of my sisters, left to right.” Ha! or would that be, ah?
I won’t say much about Leah or Ruth May here. What do you think of them?
I go back and forth from wanting to shake Nathan for what he’s doing to his family and the people he came to serve to wanting to let him know he doesn’t have to earn redemption. War leaves wounds that go deep, doesn’t it?
And naming the bird Methuselah? Brilliant. Methuselah has the longest recorded history in the Bible, and Methuselah the bird carries a record of all the M’s who have come as he repeats their phrases and theology and voices.
I loved hearing in Heart in the Right Place from people who were familiar with rural Tennessee culture. So, one of my great hopes for this book is that we’ll hear from those of you who know Africa (and in particular, the Democratic Republic of the Congo). I wasn’t very familiar with the history of colonization of this country–and the name changes. I read these two articles (here and here), if you’re interested in a bit more context.
The Peek Into Our Line Of Work
Alright, I could go on and on here and imagine we’ll be circling around these themes as we discuss the book .
We could camp out on the section sub-titles alone: The things we carried, The things we learned, and The things we didn’t know. I just wrote a newsletter to supporters yesterday and as I read those titles, I’m thinking I could structure my next newsletter around them. How about if we each share one thing we carried, one thing we’ve learned, and one thing we didn’t know. And the main titles: Genesis, Revelation, and Judges. If this was an inductive Bible Study and we were writing one word summaries, she nailed it.
“I had washed up there on the riptide of my husband’s confidence and the undertow of my children’s needs.” Orleanna. Riptides and undertows. I’ve felt them too. Where have you felt pulled?
“God created a world of work and rewards,” he elaborated, “on a big balanced scale.” Again, I want to scream when I read these sentiments as they are sprinkled throughout the book. Noooooo, that is not the gospel! I wonder what Nathan would have been like as an M if he hadn’t lived through the war when all of his company died. If he weren’t plagued by survivors guilt and the need to carry all of those men on his back as he tried to live a life worthy of having survived death.
How do we live with these tensions ourselves? Most of us reading this come from privilege never having known starvation, on-going war, or slavery. How do we lean into the tension of blessing without it becoming a burden, leading us down the paths of earning our salvation?
Throughout this section we see the girls feeling they need to protect their mom and some of the roles being reversed. Have you seen this on the field?
And finally (only because of length), let’s talk about when Nathan learned about the girl being eaten by the crocodile after he’d been pushing and pushing for people to be baptized and said, “I fail to understand why it would take six months for someone to inform me of that simple fact.” I was struck by the urgency he felt knowing he only had a year contract and wasn’t really sanctioned by his agency. The urgency crowded out the space to observe. It’s tempting for me to judge him. But you’ve probably known people who were too pushy or those who observed, observed, observed, never actually doing anything for our line of work.
I found myself wanting to distance myself from the Prices and not look for points of identification. They are a train wreck! And thankfully it’s unlikely a situation like theirs would occur today. I said to make myself feel better. I think I’m right, but I also know I’m wrong.
Your turn! What have you been noticing and enjoying (or being super frustrated over). What do you think of the girls? Do you like the Prices? Can’t wait to chat in the comments :)!
P.S. Here’s the reading plan for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver:
July 7 — Roughly 40% (or 220 pages) — includes the chapter titled Adah and which with the line “God works …”
July 14 — Roughly 60% (or 330 pages) — includes the chapter titled Leah which begins with the line “You can’t …”
July 21 — Roughly 80% (or 440 pages) — includes the chapter titled Adah Price, Emory Hospital, Atlanta, Christmas 1968
July 28 — Roughly 100% (or 543 blessed pages!)
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