Every Life Is Different Because You Passed This Way {Book Club}

And so we come to the end of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

I have to admit, when I had about 100 pages left, I wondered why the story was still going on. But as I kept learning more about each of the girls I once again marveled at what a masterpiece this is. I wondered what my impression would have been if the story had ended with Orleanna and the three surviving girls walking out of the village. I think I would have been so relieved and closed the cover and thought, what a sad disaster.

But to read how life unfolded for each of them, I was left with a different reaction. Before we get to that, here’s what stood out to me in this section:

Leah and Anatole living with his Aunt Elizabeth: “I’m hungry for any family I can get. I’m lucky if I hear from Mother and Adah twice a year. It’s not their fault. I know they’ve sent countless packages that are piled up somewhere in the great, crumbling postal edifice downtown.” That deep hunger all of the Price girls had just made me so sad.

Again from Leah: “I survive here on outrage.” I’m impressed with the family Anatole and Leah forged. They were able to create and pass on that which neither got in their childhood.

And then we hear from Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. Were you surprised that she’s running a hotel? This made me smile: “My secret is: I like it!” I was struck in this chapter how much each girl doesn’t see the value in what her sisters have chosen. “And in my family, all our hearts seem to have whole different things inside.” 

We hear so much more from Leah and Rachel in this last portion; so even though Adah has regained her speech and no longer limps, her voice seems less here than in earlier parts of the book.

Leah expressed with the tension of feeling pulled between two worlds. Part was endearing, like describing “America as devoid of smell.” Part was heart wrenching. “I already spent a whole childhood thinking I’d wrecked the life of my twin sister, dragged after me into the light. I can’t drag a husband and sons into a life where their beauty will blossom and wither in darkness. So we came home. Here. To disaster.”

“I’ve done what I can, it seems, and now I have to do what I can’t. Wait.” Leah’s longing to belong and to not be “foreign” tugs at me. Much about Anatole and Leah’s story need to be unpacked in the comments, so let’s do that.

And then the reunion! Arghhhhhhhh. I get it that they are three very different people, but it was here where I could almost taste how their relationships might have been different if they would have been exposed to the true gospel and grace in childhood. Rachel could use her hotel as a place of refuge and racial integration. Adah could use science as a window to the amazing complexities of creation. Leah and Anatole could use their passion for causes beyond the politics of this world. Instead, they are each lesser versions of their true selves.

Did you think Nathan could fall any lower? And then to have his death associated with the drowning of children when he so longed to baptize them. Sad, sad, sad. But brilliantly written as she wove his story in with the girls’ knowledge of scripture.

Upon return home Adah says, “Oddly enough, it has taken me years to accept my new position. I find I no longer have Ada, the mystery of coming and going. Along with my split-body drag I lost the ability to read in the old way.” It saddened me she could no longer play with language the way she used to. Where has part of your identity been changed that people on the outside thought was great, but secretly you kind of miss the old you?

But Adah is still so funny! “If Rachel ever gets back to Bethlehem for a high school reunion she will win the prize for ‘Changed the least.'”

From Orleanna, “Not one woman in Bethlehem ever asked me how Ruth May died. Did you know that?” I felt so sad to read this.

Sorry this is jumping all over :). Now my mind wanders to Leah and Anatole having four boys, just like Nathan and Orleanna had four girls. I loved when Leah said, “If I could reach backward somehow to give Father just one gift, it would be the simple human relief of knowing you’ve done wrong, and living through it.” Oh the power of forgiveness! I am reminded afresh of how truly wonderful forgiveness is over earning. Thank you God.

The book ends with us hearing from each girl one more time. In the final chapter, I thought it was the jungle speaking at first. (Okay, full disclosure I was reading it during an eye exam and the doctor had me trying out a new reading prescription. Let’s just say when I reread it today, I see how much I missed and will keep working with my doctor.) Anyway, so I thought it was the jungle speaking and wondered if Kingsolver was referencing the Garden of Eden and the garden mentioned in Revelation. But then I realized it was Ruth May. Which seems only fitting to end on.

“Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history. Even the child Ruth May touched history. Everyone is complicit. The okapi complied by living, and the spider by dying. It would have lived if it could.”

Reading this book with you had impacted me greatly. Thank you. As I look back and to bring this to an end, these are my three main takeaways:

1. We can only pass on what we have. Nathan didn’t have freedom, so he couldn’t pass it on. What do I have that I’m passing on? What do I need to let go of so I won’t pass it on?

2. What we pass on will live l-o-n-g into the future. Seeing this book over a 40ish year span reminded me to live with one eye on today and another on the trajectory of where I’m headed.

3. Above all: the children! Of all that I have read recently, this book has fanned the flame of protecting, providing for, and truly seeing the children in our lives.

How about you? What will your takeaways be? What stood out to you? I love our chats!

Amy

P.S. Next week I’ll share the plan for  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and  Annie Barrows. Since it’s “short” compared to this, I didn’t want to race forward too fast. Let’s savor this book and the ways God is using it in us. 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Ruth July 27, 2015

    I’m sorry I have missed being involved in this book club discussion because this is SUCH a good book.  I was already engaged in some other books, but I just got Poisonwood Bible from the library and am really looking forward to a re-read.  I can’t quite remember, but I think I read this before going on the field, so I know I will appreciate it about 10x more now!

    1. Amy Young July 29, 2015

      Ruth, never to late to read a good book :). I think you’ll find you DO get so much more out of it this go around (at least that was the case for those of us who reread it). Still feel free to pop in and read comments and share your thoughts!! 🙂

    2. Felicity Congdon August 1, 2015

      Ruth, please do come back and share your comments as you read! I (at least) will be updated via email if you post and would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. Anna July 28, 2015

    I was going to skip reading the Poisonwood Bible since I have read it a couple of times before, and my intermittent internet makes it hard to comment or join the discussion sometimes.  But I caved and bought a copy on Amazon, and have been enjoying it.

    It’s my first time reading it since living in the Congo (the “other Congo”).  Much of the culture and life is the same- things are more modern and there are some slight differences.  Lingala is the language here, but it’s very similar to Kikongo.  I’ve ended up having to read very slowly, because it is so powerful to me this time around.  I really feel the story more than reading it pre-Africa.  For example, cringing more at the things that were inappropriate to the culture, and the lack of preparation of the family.

    One thing that really stood out to me is motivations.  What was the motivation of each person in the family, and how that played out.  But it also makes me think of the motivation that I bring to what I do, whether it is long range plans, or something as simple as daily interactions at the market, etc.

    Another thing that stood out is how much we need each other.  This was so true in the village and for the Price family.  They tried to be independent (especially Nathan) and there were times that they could have accepted or asked for help.  And even later with the sisters- they definitely lived separate lives, mostly not seeming to realize how their childhood experiences were affecting them.

    In a way the whole family was victim to Nathan’s dysfunction.  He was such a troubled man, and he is a good example of someone who could have been helped by some accountability and wise council.  Maybe he would have listened, maybe not.  But with the lack of that type of input, his twisted thoughts, just became more twisted.  I can see how this can happen, even now with modern communication, etc.  Even now, where we live is a fairly isolated place, considered a “frontier town.”  It could be easy to only present the things that you want people to see and to manage to avoid real accountability or leadership from your organization.  With an organization that really provides no oversight, etc, just about anything can happen.

    Orleanna’s statement about no one asking about Ruth May reminds me how we sometimes shy away from the uncomfortable.  I read recently that it is better to ask about the hard things, than to just pretend like they didn’t happen because we’re afraid of using the wrong words.

    Anyway, I could write lots more.  🙂  This was a great book, and it was a good time for me to reread it.

    1. Amy Young July 29, 2015

      Anna, so many good thoughts here! I’d love to hear more about the cultural aspects and I”m so glad you caved 🙂

  3. Michele Womble July 31, 2015

    Thank you for giving us more time to process this book – I’m looking forward to the next book, but I’m glad we’re not rushing on from this one.

    I loved at the end that Ruth May said “You won’t forget”- giving them (particularly Orleanna) permission to move on.

    I also think that you weren’t off when you thought it was the jungle/Eden speaking at first.  I think the author WANTED us to think that.  It wasn’t supposed to be clear at first whose voice we were hearing.  And, I think maybe she wanted it to be the jungle/Eden on one level, and Ruth May on another.

    It’s SO sad that they girls can’t appreciate what each other has chosen, or see the value in it, as you said, Amy.  How often do we do this?  It isn’t what I would do – or what I’m called to – and so I can’t appreciate it for what it is and be glad that SOMEONE is doing it.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this recently because as my children get older I know that they are going to choose paths in life that aren’t “like” mine – and I want to be able to value and appreciate their paths….

    Amy said that they are “lesser versions of their true selves” – such a good way to put it!  Even while admiring Leah and Anatole’s choices, I still felt the emptiness of them – all that suffering and self-sacrifice – for what?

    And, while I admire Anatole (I distrusted him at the beginning of the book), and I think he is in a way a picture of Christ in the book (his self-sacrifice, etc.) – I can’t help thinking that Leah transferred her fierce loyalty and desire to please from her dad to Anatole.  He seems so perfect when she talks about him – he almost doesn’t come across as REAL.  She mentions other people’s faults – she never mentioned HIS faults.  Fortunately, Anatole does seem to be a good guy and worthy of her commitment, or she would have become disillusioned in him as well.  BUT I almost feel like she’s still a little stuck in seeing him as real person.  (Or maybe I missed something.)  there should have been a little natural – healthy – disillusionment somewhere along the way as she realizes that he, too, is human – good, but still fallen man.  I kept waiting for it, but it never happened.

    And somehow this is connected to them still being “lesser versions of their true selves”, but I’m still thinking through this.

     

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