I have just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber, 2000; ISBN 0-571-20175-X).
It is the story of an American Baptist missionary, who takes his wife and four daughters into the heart of the Belgian Congo shortly before the Congolese wrest their country back from Belgium and come under the influence of America and great civil unrest.The story charts the progress of the family - from its traumatic deconstruction as an American unit with all the values which go with being such, to the reconstruction of their individual lives over a thirty year period.
Told through the voices of the mother and four daughters, the story, taken at face-value, is a well-constructed and interesting insight to a world of which many of us would have no experience. However, the book is far more than that. It contains a depth of lyrical poetry, which resonates long after the book is closed. Many of its thought-provoking passages find an echo in our own lives, raising valid questions about our beliefs and values, our interpretation of what it is to be alive...and dead, our understanding of history and our concept of 'self'. There are many noteworthy phrases contained within its six hundred pages, but for me, one of the most memorable is:
'Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are what we call civilisation.'
Time is a valuable commodity. However, time invested in the company of this book is well rewarded.
I was impressed when I heard her speaking on Radio 4 recently.
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