"It is the year 1959 and The Price family are making the move from their home town of Bethlehem, Georgia to a rather isolated village in the Congo and a confounding place overall. So isolated, that it is commonly referred to as the place where everything is hidden. So confounding, that it is a place where one word can mean two totally different things and it may be good and bad at the same time. A place where searching for the truth can leave a person enslaved for the rest of their lives. Perhaps, it is a solid choice for a young family of six to go for a vacation, but instead they are going for a purpose of a twelve month mission spreading the good word to a society longing for some stability in their lives. It seems like this story will not have a happy ending. The head of the household is Nathan Price, and he is a Southern Baptist Reverend who relishes the responsibility to serve the lord. He throws himself fully into whatever decision he makes and brings his family along for the ride whether they like it or not. Being good soldiers and devoted followers of the lord, they stand by their husband and father even if it means going to the land of the unknown that is the Congo.
""In the depths of my sleepless nights I would turn to the Bible for comfort, only to find myself regaled yet again. Unto the woman God said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow though shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Oh, mercy. If it catches you in the wrong frame of mind, the King James Bible can make you want to drink poison in no uncertain terms.""
In there new environment there is more to get accustomed too than just the idea of poisonous snakes scurrying across the floor of your home, or avoiding certain brush that would make your skin crawl or tarantulas taking up residence in your cooking pots. There was plenty more to comprehend and understand than to have the ability to come to terms with the native tongue or the local flora and fauna. There was a rich history built on greed, violence, and political turmoil that needed to be learned and many people were willing to tell it, whether the family Price were willing to listen to it was a question for another day and one that would definitely be answered in due time.
When they initially touch down in Africa, the Price children truly believe that they carrying out God's work by bringing some hope to the silenced natives. Leah seems to be the most enthusiastic as she is also identifiable as a father's daughter. When they get to their village in Kilanga the girls quickly realize that there aren't many people like them and probably never will be again. There were rumours going around that the previous missionary, Brother Fowles, had gone crazy after dealing with the natives and the current environment for so long. This is also a place where witch doctors have garnered more support than those of any other faith, leaving most of the congregation to be made of the sick and social outcasts. Fowles left a talking parrot named Methuselah as a housewarming gift, that eventually overstay's it's welcome as he showcases his breadth and affinity for curse words. In a household of devout Christians, somethings got to give, and quickly the children begin to wonder if their beloved father has made a deal with the devil and a return home to the land of the free likely a falsehood.
""He noticed the children less and less. He was hardly a father except in the vocational sense, as a potter with clay to be molded. Their individual laughter he couldn't recognize, nor their anguish. He never saw how Adah chose her own exile; how Rachel was dying for the normal life of slumber parties and record albums she was missing. And poor Leah. Leah followed him like an underpaid waitress hoping for the tip. It broke my heart. I sent her away from him on every pretense I knew. It did no good.""
Narrated by the mother and the four Price children, the reader is able to establish an identity and become able to interpret the true feelings that each one has during their year-long journey. Orleanna is the matriarch of the Price family and is an agreeable mother who has stood by her husband through many trying times. As deferential as she may seem, she maintains a level of independence of thought when certain conflicts arise and calls to action need to be addressed. Her narrative centers around the telling of secrets, a confession of sorts in a world where there is no such thing as a clear conscience. Intriguing state of mind to say the least and one where guilt and resentment reign supreme. Oldest daughter Rachel is the fair maiden who longs for America and hates everything about her new surroundings. She is the object of the Congolese people's attention which seems to instill a certain attitude that she carries with her throughout the book. The youngest daughter Ruth May admittedly, is at times bad, but does her best to be good in the eyes of the lord. Adventurous and snoopy she never let's a moment go to waste. Twin daughters Leah and Adah are both very gifted children. Leah is the primary narrator of the children and is more of the tomboy type who does a lot of work in the garden and is very competitive. Adah is born with a neurological condition that weakened the left side of her body, she is very observant, descriptive, non-judgmental and an introspective character that makes games out of language and it's ingrained intricacies. Very interesting personalities in complex situations makes the journey of the Price brood emotional, and heavily drawn out.
Most of the girls bring their prejudices from back home with them to Africa and can't shake the feeling that the natives given their state of disrepair are cursed, evil, odorous, and uneducated savages. And what's with their fascination with plants, animals and superstitious beliefs? What's strange is that as much as they regard their new neighbour's as odd, those same people view the white, clothed family as freaks of nature or straight up devil's. What the Price children view as shameful and hideous is reciprocated in a different way by the Africans. Cultural divide in many ways. Adah is able to understand the judgments put upon the natives due to the colour of their skin in relation to her physical handicap. Common themes of racism and sexism plague this book as each culture experience how the other one was nurtured to live and if adaptation proves to be beneficial for those involved in changing their futures.
"" 'He is the one wife belonging to many white men.' Anatole explained it this way:Like a princess in a story Congo was born too rich for her own good, and attracted attention far and wide from men who desire to rob her blind. The United States has now become the husband of Zaire's economy, and not a very nice one. Exploiting and condescending, in the name of steering her clear of the moral decline inevitable to her nature. 'Oh, I understand that kind of marriage all right,' I said. 'I grew up witnessing one just like that.' ""
Nathan parents with the same fury he uses in his sermons, ruling with an iron fist as he uses the bible as well as a leather strap to punish his children for common behaviours. Nathan slowly becomes the embodiment of evil for the Price family as they settle into their lives in the Congo. Serving up his children's punishment with a heavy hand of physical abuse or transcribing bible verses which after frequent “transgressions”, they know from heart. The Price children are normal children acting out the way many children do, but with a minister for a father and living in an alien country where you are perceived as the aliens; nothing seems normal anymore.
Looking for my next book to read I had The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach in my hands content with my selection, but then I picked up The Poisonwood Bible. I must say that Orleanna's narrative from the first page drew me in. It was so dark, mysterious, chilling, and exciting that after reading the first few pages I knew this was going to jump the line. Unfortunately my level of enthusiasm waned from then on. It is obviously well-written but weighed down by unnecessary detail and a persistent agenda that got tiresome. Any reader should want to give this book a shot, whether you like it or not is up to you.
""Silicon emas. There is no stepping in the same river twice. So say the Greek philosophers, and the crocodiles make sure. Ruth May is not the same Ruth May she was. Yam Htur. None of us is the same: Lehcar, Hael, Hada. Annaelro. Only Nathan remains essentially himself, the same man however you look at him. The other of us have two sides. We go to bed ourselves and like poor Dr. Jekyll we wake up changed.""