The themes of this book are worn on it's sleeve. They permeate every page with an outspokenness that must fit the struggles for independence of all conquered nations. If someone does not stand up and raise their voice, there will never be freedom, right? In telling this story oppression must be defined. Kingsolver accomplishes this through the first two books: Genesis and Revelation. She identifies the major players in their respective roles of oppressor and oppressed, each a metaphor for the greater struggle for Congolese independence. The third (Judges) serves as the wake-up-call to the consciousness of all involved. There must be a paradigm shift; something must change. The last four books cover the ground of independence sought and gained (?).
Maybe it is just me, but the last couple of books really could have been left off. Maybe it is the free person in me that understands the struggle, the attainment, that doesn't need reminders of a life of oppression left behind. They slithered and crawled and worked their way free, I don't need a recap of the rest of their lives. They are free, right? Well, "not so much," says Kingsolver. They only thought they were free, they were only free of certain things. They still have the memories. The memories will never free them, no matter how they deal with them.
Memory is the device of the narrators of this tale. All is told in reminiscence. All is recounted with the understanding of what happened in the end, where each person ended up. In keeping with this Kingsolver foreshadows many of the plot points in a heavy-handed way. For the most part the reader knows what is going to happen well before the action takes place. Somehow it doesn't mar the story. It reads like a person telling a joke and letting slip the punchline, long before they are supposed to. It doesn't mean it is not just as enjoyable, it is just not surprising.
Memory also is the thing each person carries out of the Congo with them. The memory of what has happened shapes the lives of each character. Each character remains true to the original sketch of themselves, but because we are looking back, they tell only the things they think are important to who they are now. Each one a pragmatist, a scholar, a narcissist, a survivor. The reader gets from them just what they want to give; but cleverly, he knows more about them than they think he does. This is due to the device of multiple narrators. Kingsolver tells her story through the eyes of the Price women. Each is a a fully realized character, with her own narrative style. My favorite is Adah, the crooked-backed, palindrome spouting, lesser-twin to Leah. Her story resonates more fully because she uses words sparingly and speaks even fewer. Her chapters are rich because the reader would not know her otherwise. Each of the other characters are easily understood through the telling of their counterparts; but because Adah is silent most of the time, she is privileged to tell her story her way. She is easily one of the most compelling characters in modern literature.
With memory comes regret. Kingsolver deals with this in various ways, but no more clearly than here, the words of Orleanna Price:
Try to imagine what never happened: our family without Africa, or the Africa that would have been without us. Look at your sisters now. Lock, stock, and barrel, they've got their own three ways to live with our history. Some can find it. Many more never do. But which one among you is without sin? I can hardly think where to cast my stones, so I just go on keening for my own losses, trying to wear the marks of the boot on my back as gracefully as the Congo wears hers.The scars remain; the bruises, and the illnesses never healed. But the characters learn how to deal with regret, by understanding it must have been this way. The story could not be told, but by walking down that particular road. What they would have been otherwise is unthinkable; this is who they are now.
I could write a whole other post on the particulars of the theology that took them there. A works-based system, insisting the justice (in human perception) of God would reward the "goodness" of a man bent on becoming a spiritual giant, without any of the tools necessary. I would set it against the backdrop of a tribal theology that is not very far displaced from the theology of the missionary, just set on a different focal point. This could be discussed in grand detail to tedium by this humble church history (theology) major, but I have already said the most important stuff regarding this book. Read it for yourself and discover a world of themes hidden just under the skin, like the zillion parasites of the Congolese jungle.
Rating: 4.5 out of 7