I picked up this book at a book sale while traveling in Woodland, California this past May/June. I was advised by a dear friend to read this and I appreciate her recommendation. It is always fun to read books that your friends recommend because it gives you a little insight into their reading style, and I think, their personality. I really enjoyed this read.
This novel is about a Baptist family from the state of Georgia who end up in the Congo of Africa in the early 1960’s. The husband/father, Nathan, is a pastor and wants to bring the Good Word to Africa. The story is written in chapters from each of the females in the book- the wife, Orleanna, and her four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May. Leah and Adah are twins but Adah was born with severe birth defects that resulted in half her body not being fully usable, so she limps along behind her twin sister.
The evolution of each character through the novel is remarkable. The trajectory of each daughter through their adulthood is pretty remarkable– one dies (Ruth May) of a snake bite, which causes great waves in the family– sending each individual off into their own kind of grief. Orleanna ends up leaving Nathan and heading back to the United States with Adah. Leah marries an African man in the novel, Anatole, who was the school teacher in the village where they stayed. Rachel takes off with a pilot and ends up in several different marriages but is ultimately the wealthiest (but who knows if she’s the happiest).
I loved thinking about Nathan, the husband, coming into the Congo and really believing he was going to “save Africa” by bringing the Bible. He never leaves the Congo and ends up dying without making any noticeable impact.
The early 1960’s was a time in history when the Congo was owned by Belgium and within the book independence is gained and Africa becomes its own country; however, there is great danger associated with the political climate. Orleanna had told Nathan they should leave when the talks of independence began but he was stubborn and unshakable, but when Ruth May dies, Orleanna simply walks away.
I thought it was interesting that Nathan never narrates in the novel– it is only the women. I wonder what he would have had to say.
I loved Kingsolver’s prose, voice and general attitude. This was a great book and I look forward to investigating her other works.
Overall rating: 4.5/5