Sunday, 29 April 2012

Poisonwood Bible: A Review

Posionwood bible is the story of a family of six Americans comprising of an over-zealous, Baptist missionary, his wife Orleana Price and their four daughters who arrive in Belgian Congo in 1959 with several preconceived notions of Africa, to "civilize" a "rough people". Nathan Price's literal mind is too loud to listen and consequently he never learns anything about the local culture. His stubbornness and inability to comprehend the potential irrelevance of himself and his message in a country like Congo makes him refuse his one chance at leaving the country with his family when the politics around him threatens to take over their lives. He is so sure of the simplicity of the people he has come to educate, that he does not realize that the reason they steadfastly refused to be baptized in the river may have more to do with the crocodiles in it and less to do with their assumed obtuseness! In fact, his insistence that "Tata Jesus is Bangala" does not inspire confidence in the people since his American accent converts his intended meaning (Jesus is precious) to Jesus is poisonwood!

Leah the paternal approval seeking one-half of a twin and the other, Adah, spouting lyrics and making palindrome nicknames, form the heart and the conscience of the novel. The eldest, a regular Mrs Malaprop, seems like a metaphor for the other half of the universe that vaguely recognizes that there is oppression and greed in the world, but believes that one needs one's "pink mohair twin set" to retain one's sanity. Orleana Price herself is a metaphor for Africa, "occupied by Nathan Price", just as Africa in general and Congo in particular, is occupied by an ill informed, arrogant West that is too loud to listen -- just like Nathan Price. We hear the children and the mother slowly making sense of each other as well as the world around them and learning from Africa and its people. It takes a tragedy to move them physically out of Africa, but they are each forever marked by her.

This book weaves the author's global politics neatly with the familial politics of the people in the novel, thus making the reader care. It is also about communication and how it can never be honest if there is no mutual respect between the communicating parties.

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