Right then. I picked this up...a long time ago. It's one of those books that's been sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get around to it. To be honest, I almost got rid of it years ago when I did my Great Purge. I held onto it for some reason, shallowly, probably because of the 'Oprah's Book Club' seal on the front.
I'm very glad that I did hold onto it. See above for my general level of :DDD - all the love for this book.
“The death of something living is the price of our own survival, and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep.”
It's told in the alternating point of views of the five Price women. The mother, Orleanna, and her four daughters; Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May.
Their lives revolve around the patriarch of the Price family, Reverend Nathan Price. The man, a Southern Baptist preacher turned missionary is driven by inner demons whose shapes become clear through the story of the book. Believing that he is on a mission from God, Price drags his family to the Congo in the late 1950s which I think most people know could be, in a massive understatement, called the beginning of a time of great upheaval in the region.
The Price family arrive in the Congo with no knowledge of the language and no idea of the political situation. Nathan has dragged them there against the advice of the people in charge of the mission, though his wife doesn't find that out until later. They arrive believing in their inherent superiority as whites, as civilized, Western people and as Christians. Their arrogance and utter lack of understanding or even a desire to understand the culture and the people that they are suddenly surrounded by is grating and sickening in places.
While the women of the family adapt to varying degrees, forced to learn how to survive in a completely alien environment, Nathan is focused and blind to the point of madness. He sees nothing but enemies all around him, even in his own family. Throughout the book we are shown the damage that his rampant misogyny has on his family. His wife, a strong and spirited woman in her youth when they first marry is beaten down and subjugated to the point where she becomes unable to stand strong enough to save her daughters until it is too late.
"God doesn’t have to punish us. He just grants us a long enough life to punish ourselves."
There is action in this book, though not of the guns and knives sort. The tension, the driving force behind the book is the slow growing understanding of just how far out of control this family is. How at the mercy of a single man and his madness they have become. It's a novel about people and about how they can either bend or break.
It does start out slowly. I can't tell you the number of times that I was reading and thought about just putting it down and moving on at first. There are moments of dark hilarity, like when Nathan is finally told that the reason no one wants to be baptised is that they think he's trying to feed them to the crocodiles in the river that grow fewer and fewer as you read on and begin to understand exactly how delusional Nathan is, how determined he is that he is chosen by God and that he will stay his course no matter how many lives it costs.
"Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs, war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever."
I know this is a short and kind of really vague review, but I always want to err on the side of not giving too much of the book away. Part of the wonder of books, the thing that draws us in, is not known what's coming on the next page.
This book is worth the time you spend on it. Go read it.
I give this book 4.5/5.