Books By Women: The Poisonwood Bible

There was no way I was going to read The Poisonwood Bible. I wasn’t going to read it. And if I read it, I wasn’t going to enjoy it. My friend who recommended it to me, read it in high school. Why would I read this book after I graduated from college?

I knew all I needed to know about the book from the title and the premise: a white Christian family of missionaries goes to the Congo in the 1960s. It would be a book of searingly blatant themes that THE WEST SHOULDN’T INTERFERE WITH AFRICA, and CONGOLESE TRADITIONS DON’T NEED CHRISTIANITY and LOOK AT THIS SYMPATHETIC WHITE FAMILY BLUNDER IN AFRICA BUT STILL BE SYMPATHETIC.

I was mainly right. The book was blatant about its themes. Yet, I enjoyed it when I promised I wouldn’t. I finished it when I thought I would hand it back to my friend with a shake of my head.

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The novel had its strengths, far more than I wanted to give it credit for. To start, the writing was very poetic and I kept a growing list of lines and quotes in a notebook to remember how Barbara Kingsolver molded language. Her writing is emotionally gripping and her details on Congolese culture and language highlight expertise I had not been expecting when the story appeared so simple and moralistic. The historical details of Patrice Lumumba’s  assassination and the ensuing struggle for Congolese independence under the meddling fist of the United States provides great background for readers unfamiliar with modern African history. Kingsolver even appeased the history major in me by including a works cited page at the back of the book. It also helps that Kingsolver grew up in a missionary family who went to the Congo.

I cared about the characters though I promised I would just read this book to make my friend happy (she had loaned it to me for over a year before I finally picked it up). As it turns out, I am a sucker for a well characterized first person point of view. I am a special sucker for stories with multiple first person point of views (Doctrine of Labyrinths). And The Poisonwood Bible fulfills my need to read books by women, but the story is also narrated by women. Five women to be precise. Orelanna Price and her four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May. Orelanna brings her four daughters with her when she follows her Minister husband into the Congo to bring Jesus into the lives of the natives. Despite a blatant hit you over the head anti-colonial message which knows no subtlety, this is a novel which does what not many other books think to do: give voice to a whole cast of female characters. 

Thank you Barbara Kingsolver for understanding that women do not need to be likeable but they need to be real and complicated which (for the most part) Kingsolver accomplished.

If it wasn’t readily apparent, I still flip-flop on this book. The writing is strong but overbearing, especially when Kingsolver tries to use extended metaphors. I would recommend the novel to high schoolers as well as readers who have no background in colonial history or African history. It’s not something I would reread, but if nothing else, I’m glad I read it because of the sheer number and expression of plurality of female characters.

Next up: The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina Garcia.

Keep reading!

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Bring Back the 2% Solution

In December 1930, Albert Einstein gave a speech in New York expressing his dedication to the peace movements in America and abroad. But he did more than speak in abstract ideals of a peaceful future. He proposed a solution. He said:

Even if only two per cent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war  of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

On December 30th 2013, the US census bureau projected that in 2014, the US population would be 317,297,938. Two percent of the American population is over 6 million people! Imagine the political strength of 6 million especially if, as Einstein suggested, each of these individuals encourages others to stand against war and militarism.

What if 2% of the American people decided to stop paying their income taxes until military spending is cut down and the money transferred to education or sustainable energy? What if 2% of the American people rallied against the NRA? What if 2% of the American people demanded Guantanamo Bay be shut down?

What if 2% of the American people realized they have a powerful voice?

I’m speaking specifically about the American people because America, and specifically American youth, have become depoliticized just when the world most needs a protest movement that moves beyond internet circles.

Politics and politicization is not just for radicals, but for everyone who has something they believe in. Politics is for everyone.  It is the way to have a voice and recognize the power of that voice, especially in standing for peace in a violent world. The suffering of people in Syria, in the Ukraine, the violent attacks on protesters in Taiwan and in Turkey cannot be ignored as conflicts for others to deal with and broker peace. The US cannot take any stance for peace beyond its borders until the US government cuts down its military budget and takes steps toward a domestic peace process to end their own state monopoly on a violence. The US relies on a racist and sexist system inherent in a violent culture to control its population.

Bring back the 2% campaign! With enough people believing in a world free from militarization as a means of political  control, radical change can be made toward a realistic peace.

For more information on the history of an international peace movement I recommend reading Peace: A History of Movement and Ideas by David Cortright.

Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. -Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

 

Islamophobia: Stop the Racism masked as Homeland Security

My grandfather sends me chain emails he gets from his friends. These emails are sometimes funny, sometimes worthwhile, but more often than not they’re offensive. Yesterday I received a particularly racist gem that I couldn’t just ignore and send to my deleted items folder.

Under the guise of being pro-American and religious, the email spoke about how a leader in Prison Ministry had to undergo diversity training and attend a lecture by representatives of Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Muslim faith. The email begins with a subtle racism, but blatant Islamophobia:

The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races!!

As if the exclamation points don’t voice their concern enough, the speaker needs to dirty his language further by referring not just to those who identify as Muslim, but identifying a connection between minorities and Islam. There is a fear and hatred in these words directed at the Muslim religion and those who might be converts- i.e. those who are not white. The speaker fears minority representation taking away from the dominant white vote.

In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S. Should be required to read this; but, with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

If minorities get the vote, who knows what will happen to our precious country, right? Where will our country be without the strong leaders of white male America to lead it away from the hatred of Islam, right? Everyone in the US should read this, but because it is eye opening about how easy it is to shove our own hatred of others onto them hating us.

The anecdote the email’s author shares is that while attending this lecture series, he asked the Muslim speaker about the holy war and how Muslims are guaranteed a place in heaven if they kill an infidel. He asked the Muslim speaker to define an infidel and the Muslim man said an infidel is a non-believer.

According to the author of this email, the Muslim man “held his head in shame” when his beliefs were brought to light. According to the author of this email, the truth about the Muslim religion was out. What truth? That Americans generalize about the beliefs of others? That Americans hate based on race and religion while preaching tolerance? Those are the only truths I see.

The email ends with a call to action:

This is your chance to make a difference…

FOR SAVING OUR COUNTRY, AS WE KNOW IT,

IN SPITE OF IT’S WARTS AND MOLES, PASS ON THIS MESSAGE. IT IS OUR COUNTRY, WITH LIFE, LIBERTY, AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, THAT WE ARE TRYING TO PRESERVE! THE INACTION IN   EUROPE, MAKES THEIR FUTURE VERY MUCH IN DOUBT. WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR CHILDRENS’ FUTURE? A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL
AMERICANS, AND NOT A RETREAT TO THE HATE, MURDER, AND DARKNESS AS ESPOUSED BY MUSLIM-ISLAM!

I’ll end with a call to action of my own: we need to get the word out that Islamophobia is real and has an active audience. it is our country, but that does not mean it is a white country. The liberty and justice for all will be best preserved when the doctrine is followed through. Good luck preaching justice for all when you espouse hatred. Good luck educating children, when you raise them on a diet of white supremacy. Good luck, because the “hate, murder and darkness” you attribute to those of the Islamic faith are just reflections of your own ignorance and fear.

All minorities and oppressed groups need to take a stand and  act out against this! Hatred against one fuels hatred against all.