Thursday, January 17, 2008

month of loves

Well, I've decided to try something new. Valentine's Day is exactly four weeks from today, and I've decided to write about things that I love in preparation for that sweetest and sappiest of holidays. I've also decided to have themed days of the week. However, I've only come up with 5 themes I definitely want to write about, and several others that I could use, but am not all that jazzed about. So, here are the definite themes: books, places, people, scriptures, and art.

Here are a few others I've thought of: food, hikes, ice cream flavors, memories. PLEASE leave a comment and let me know which ones you'd like to read about, or any other suggestions you have. If it comes down to it, I'll have a miscellaneous day, but that seems like a cop out.

But, for today, my topic is books. I have many more than 4 books that I love, but mostly, this is just to get some thoughts flowing, so here goes. Today's book is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I just finished it this morning. I started it over a year ago but had many more dis-stresses in my life at the time and found it darkening my mood too much to read it in good conscience as a newly wed.

The extremely oversimplified plot line of it is this: Nathan Price, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, moves to the Congo with his wife and four daughters to take over a mission post. Each chapter of the novel is told from the perspective of one of the daughters or the wife, a tool that effectively keeps the father/preacher in a separate world for the reader, just as he is for the women.

I found I couldn't invest myself in the book until things really started falling apart for the Price family. Of course, most of them hated the Congo from the moment they arrived, but once their supports-- real or imagined-- started falling out from under them and they had to learn and reach for new ways to make sense of the world, then I couldn't stop reading until I finished the book. I suppose that's one reason we like to read, learning from the characters' experiences at the same time they do, but I've enjoyed much happier, less-painful stories than this, so it must have been especially true in this novel.

One of my favorite points that gets made by each of the daughters as they reflect on their months in the Congo is why the white man never could, and still doesn't succeed at conquering Central Africa. One of them explains it in terms of agriculture. The Europeans came to the jungle and saw small villages subsisting relatively peacefully and prosperously. When they tried to civilize the country with commercial farms, roads, and cities, the jungle and its climate halted all progress. Any open land meant for farming would be grown over in months. Roads cleared for paving turned into rivers of mud during the rainy season. Any crops that did manage to make it into the ground either died from too much or too little rain. The jungle doesn't leave anything untouched and refuses to submit to change without argument. Each of the members of the Price family is fundamentally changed by their experiences in Africa. The oldest and ditziest daughter puts it this way,

"You can't just sashay into the jungle expecting to change it all over... without expecting the jungle to change you right back....If it was as easy as they thought it was going to be, why, they'd be done by now, and Africa would look just like America with more palm trees. Instead, most of it still looks exactly how it did a million years ago."

There's so much more to be said about the book, but I chose this point because I'm learning so much of it in my own life right now-- the changing and adapting and reconfiguring your life to fit what's happened to you and what is going to happen. Thankfully, at an individual level, my life is a series of great blessing with more on the way, and I change from each of those. But as I think about upcoming elections, and how I'm going to raise my children to think and act and make choices, I appreciate being reminded of the vast and beautiful differences between my experiences and those on the other side of the world. I want to know and teach my children about those differences. I want them to be curious about them and wonder how they would approach problems, how they make art, and what makes them happy.

So that's why I love this book. The author transports you to a completely different world and pulls out of it so many commonalities of human existence. As Meg Ryan says in You've Got Mail, "Read it. I know you'll love it."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I 'read' Poisonwood Bible last spring: Robin Falke loaned me her cd's and I listened to it. Each daughter was voiced by a different reader, which, I think, made it even more powerful.
I, too, liked the point that there are real and maybe insurmountable reasons that much of Africa is still untamed; the native peoples have mostly made peace with that: it is usually outsiders who think they know otherwise.
I was really taken by some of the more minor characters in the story, particularly a young African teacher. These more sympathetically presented men helped me get past the non-stop male bashing (which the husband really deserved). Since I am surrounded with really great men, I am often uncomfortable with books/movies that tar ALL men with the same egotistical brush.
"Poisonwood Bible" reminded me strongly of Michener's "Hawaii", which I read when I was 11. Many of the same themes with white ministers imposing their culture along with teaching their religion. I am glad to know that our LDS leaders are seriously attempting to separate Mormon theology from Utah/ western/Western culture, altho' often not very successfully, depending on the people involved, but we are AWARE of the problem and TRY to address it.
Mom

Steve said...

I'd like to hear about some of your favorite scripture-inspired thoughts.

lizzie said...

I've read Poisonwood Bible twice. I really liked it the first time, not so much the second time. But the second time it inspired more deep thinking, so I guess both times were good reads.

I'm looking forward to this month of loves. I wish I had good ideas like that.