Sunday, April 17, 2011
153. the POISONWOOD BIBLE
In this highly absorbing novel, Nathan Price, a WWII veteran, now a Baptist Preacher uproots his family from Georgia to Belgian Congo, in his firm and naive belief that as a missionary, he has God's blessing to spread the word and convert the Congolese to Christianity. Told in seven sections, as though you are reading a bible, the book consists of alternating narratives of five women. Orleanna is the mother who is torn between obeying her husband and the welfare of her four daughters, Rachel is the first born and at fifteen highly materialistic, Leah is the idealistic twin of Adah who is developmentally delayed and Ruth May, the innocent five year old. They speak of their struggles and frustrations as they try to make sense and later adapt to their new life amidst the poverty and political turmoil of the period. Will they change Congo, or will it change them?
'Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.'(opening line)
'It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant's afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it's been years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences.'(7)
'Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink. any morning, every morning. Blossomy rose-color birdsong air streaked sour with breakfast cookfires. a wide red plank of dirt -- the so-called road -- flat-out in font of us, continuous is theory from here to somewhere distant... The parade never stops. Into the jangled pieces of road little jungle roosters step from the bush, karkadoodling.'(30)
'Silence has many advantages. When you do not speak, other people presume you to be deaf or feeble-minded and promptly make a show of their own limitations.'(34)
'Once every few years, even now, I catch the scent of Africa. It makes me want to ken, sing, clap up thunder, lie down at the foot of a tree and let the worms take whatever of me they can still use.
I find it impossible to bear.
Ripe fruits, acrid sweat, urine flowers, dark spices, and other things I've never even seen -- I can't say what goes into the composition, or why it rises up to confront me as I round some corner hastily, unsuspecting. It has found me here on this island, in our little town...'(87)
'How did he come to pass, this nommo Nathan Price? I do wonder. In the beginning was the word, the war, the way of the flesh. The mother, the Father, the son who was not, the daughters who were too many. The twins who brought down the house, indeed. In the beginning was the word the herd the blurred the turd the debts incurred the theatrical absurd. Our Father has a bone to pick with this world, and oh, he picks it like a sore. Picks it with the word. His punishment is the Word, and his deficiencies are failures of words ...'(213)
'Mama Mwanza shouted again and clapped her hands, bringing a reluctant son out of the house, dragging the flat, pinkish soles of his feet. Then I laughed, too, just because people young and old are more or less the same everywhere. I let myself breathe out, feeling like one of Anatole's schoolboys taking a scolding.
"Do you see that, Beene? That is Congo. Not minerals and glittering rocks with no hearts, these things that are traded behind our backs. The Congo is us."(231)
'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. Without the rock of certainty underfoot, the Congo is a fearsome place to have to sink or swim.'(244)
'I may be a preacher's daughter, but I know a thing or two. And one of them is, when men want to kiss you they act like they are just on the brink of doing something that's going to change the whole wide world.'(294)
'Ants. We were walking on, surrounded, enclosed, enveloped, being eaten by ants. Every surface was covered and boiling, and the path like black flowing lava in the moonlight. Dark, bulbous tree trunks seethed and bulged. The grass had become a field of dark daggers standing upright, churning and crumpling in on themselves. We walked on ants and ran on them, releasing their vinegary smell to the weird, quiet night.''(299)
"I am telling you what I'm telling you. Don't try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad things can still happen. And if you are bad, you can still be lucky."(309)
'The sting of a fly, the Congolese say, can launch the end of the world. How simply things begin.'(317)
'God doesn't need to punish us. He just grants us a long enough life to punish ourselves.'(327)
'How can I ever love anyone but Anatole? Who else cam make the colors of the aurora borealis rise off my skin where he strokes my forearm? Or send needles of ice tinkling blue through my brain when he looks into my eyes? What else but this fever could commute my father's ghost crying, "Jezebel!" into a curl of blue smoke drifting the honey-colored ache of malaria and guilt from my blood? By Anatole I was shattered and assembled, by way of Anatole I am delivered not out of my life but through it.'(399)
'... how can there be so many kinds of things a person doesn't really need?
I can think of no honorable answer. Why must some of us deliberate between brands of toothpaste, while others deliberate between damp dirt and bone dust to quiet the fire of an empty stomach lining? There is nothing about the United States I can really explain to this child of another world.'(441)
'Our union has been difficult for both of us in the long run, but what union isn't? Marriage is one long fit of compromise, deep and wide. There is always one agenda swallowing another, a squeaky wheel crying out. But hasn't our life together meant more to the world than either of us could have meant alone?'(473)
'"Be kind to yourself," he says softly in my ear, and I ask him, How is that possible? I rock back and forth on my chair like a baby, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my own narrow body. But I also want to be the person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damn it. To scrub the hundred years' war off this white skin till there's nothing left and I can walk out among my neighbors wearing raw sinew and bone, like they do.
Most of all, my white skin craves to be touched and held by the one man on earth I know has forgiven me for it.'(474)
'Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place.'(505)
First HarperPerennial edition 1999
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge