Oh Congo, Congo. Why wasn't it full of sun and tropical breeze? Why was it instead sunk in pain, drunk in sadness, drowned in atrocities, and so irrevocably lost? Why could I not feel just a bit of sunlight, but rather such a dismal outlook? Why could not all the songs, all the dances, all the colors, brighten the day?The Poisonwood Bible
is a story about a mother and four daughters in a preacher's family, the Prices, as they went to Congo on missionary in 1960s. Through their eyes, Kingsolver examines various themes: feminism, colonialism, political & economic systems, and of course, cultural & religious values. Five characters emerged themselves beautifully with distinct voices throughout the book. They invite readers to Congo, they revealed the lovely nation to us, slowly, gently, but not less heartbreakingly. They drew us in, into the suffocation, the desperation, the imprisonment that they suffered so much.
It is a powerful book, perhaps also a controversial one, since it takes a strong liberal view and thus, especially towards the latter half of the book, featuring some extreme depictions and simplification of several characters and ideals. It would not be difficult to scroll down some reviews on Goodreads and find protests against the unfair portrayals, portrayals of steadfast Christianity, of the hypocritical, condescending "West," of noble communism, of greedy and cruel capitalism, the simple interpretation of Congo's leaders Mobutu the dictator and Lumumba the socialist, would-have-been-savior of the country. I sometimes find myself uncomfortable reading so obvious personal teaching, such as Anatole's talks with Leah, or Rachel's ignorance and shallowness.
Nevertheless, I find the book's underlying motivation overshadowing all of its failings. Despite all, what I learned, what made my heart wrench so violently is the people and their sufferings, both the Price women and the Congoleses. The greatest sadness I felt was for the Congolese, for the bright and beautiful nation with potentials and resources, and yet they helplessly fall in the hopelessness. As time goes by, the future looks only darker. Where is the way out? Where is the escape? There is no magic, no instant cure to lift up the country. It has to untangle so many messes from its past. It has to recreate itself, for I think it is lost. It could never be the same, it could never even be its 1960 self. Such nation is gone. Oh the loss of lives, oh the loss of life.
Sometimes I wonder, who to blame?, so that it would make everything much easier to feel and think about. But dear, of course the answer is not to be found. I was telling myself how lucky I was to be living in this country, in this century, rather than at the "backward" old time, facing and fighting the dangerous old notions. And suddenly a shiver went through me. I stood still.
How stupid I was. How stupid again to make the same mistake, the mistake to think that we are now smarter, stronger, we are much more "advanced," that we are now more likely and at a better position to solve all problems. I felt into that trap, again, to find condescendence though accompanied with love & sympathy. Arrogance breeds mistakes, perilous mistakes, even if with good will. Because of arrogance, we thought less of other cultures, we failed to learn from and appreciate others. And then, with the banner claiming "civilization," we set up centuries of anguish around the world, with consequences still felt and still hurt so deeply. No, we are not better than people in the past, we are much likely to make the same mistakes again. If there is any lesson, at all, then that is we have in ourselves such capacity to create, and also to destroy.