I’ve just finished reading “The Poisonwood Bible”, and am listening to the quietness of our house now. It’s a strange feeling, coming back to the here and now after being totally immersed in a novel of the Congo that spanned thirty years, starting in 1959. A family of six goes to the Belgian Congo because the father (Nathan Price) wants to convert the heathens there. Much of the book includes vivid detail of the family’s new home.
Nathan was the one character that I despised from beginning to end. Although the whole premise of the book hung on his decision to drag his family to the other side of the world, he actually appears in the story the least of all the family members (which was fine with me). I found his superior attitude and legalism sickening.
Oleanna, the mother, is a product of her era. Good Christian women back then were taught to simply submit to whatever their husbands told them to do. Never voice an objection, never disobey, and never have a divergent opinion. So she dutifully follows him to a harsh life on the African continent.
Their four daughters struggle to adjust to their new life. Sixteen-year-old Rachel can’t believe she’s spending her prime years without make-up, fashionable clothes and her girlfriends, and constantly begs to go home. Fifteen-year-old Adah is viewed as an oddity by the village people, as she walks crookedly and is mute. Her twin, Leah, does the best of all the sisters at fitting in, interacting with the neighbors and forming friendships. Their much-younger sister, Ruth May, is fascinated with the plant and animal life of their new home. Each person in the family reacts to Africa in a different way. But after living in the village of Kilanga for several years, there is no returning to their previous normal lives as Americans.
Although the story is fictional, the author did indeed live in the Belgian Congo (re-named Zaire) as a child for a time, and she drew on her memories in the writing of this novel. She did a magnificent job of transporting readers into the world of the Congo. This is definitely a modern classic.
This book really could have been entitled: “How NOT To Be A Missionary”. Almost from the first page, Nathan Price is blundering badly at every step. But when people have grandiose ideas of what they can do in the name of God, things often go awry.
The story begins in 1959 in the state of Georgia, with Nathan having the desire to go to the Belgian Congo as a missionary. His wife Orleanna, and their four daughters – Rachel, Adah, Leah, and Ruth – don’t particularly want to go, but dutifully go with him. Talk about being totally unprepared! They haven’t learned the language. They know nothing of the customs of the people. They are unfamiliar with the animals and vegetation of the Congo. And they will be the only foreigners in the area. From the day the family arrives in Kilanga, Nathan manages to offend and alienate the villagers.
Orleanna and her daughters take turns telling the story, so you get the point of view of a young child, teenagers, and an adult. Nathan, the father, is the only one who doesn’t help tell the story.
Only a third of the way through the book, I cannot yet say if this is a book I enjoy or not. It was one of the books recommended to me by a librarian at my local library.
I just keep shaking my head and sighing, as Nathan persists in trying to convert the people of the Congo, while being totally oblivious to how his wife and children feel. But the story keeps pulling me along, so I will finish it.
Troy Phelan, a cynical billionaire who has grown tired of living, jumps from a skyscraper after signing a simple will that leaves his massive fortune to an illegitimate daughter whom his family knows nothing about. Only a pittance is granted to his other children, and not a penny to his ex-wives. Rachel Lane has grown up not knowing her father, and is a missionary to a remote tribe of Indians in South America. The majority of the book covers the search for the elusive missionary, and her reaction to the inheritance.
Nate O’Reilly is the lawyer that is sent down to Brazil to locate Rachel. His life is a total mess – twice divorced, estranged from his children, in trouble with the IRS, and newly released from a detox program. The sub-story line about Nate’s life is just as intriguing as the main plot of finding Rachel. The stories intertwine perfectly as Nate and Rachel finally meet.
The book switches back and forth from the United States, where the Phelan children are legally contesting the will, to South America, where Nate is traveling through the Pantanal area looking for Rachel. He encounters difficulties of all varieties, making it a hellish trip.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Testament”, both in book form and as an audiobook. Frank Muller is the narrator, and performs to perfection. His reading is animated, as if he really is the character he is reading. Mr. Muller was the narrator for a number of popular novels, but was injured in a serious motorcycle accident in 2001, from which he never fully recovered. He passed away in 2008, leaving “The Testament” as some of his finest work. Whether you read it in printed or audio version, you’re sure to find this one of John Grisham’s best novels.