The Poisonwood Bible

Posted on September 1, 2010

6


Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. ”

I first read The Poisonwood Bible the summer between my junior and senior year in college. Since then, I’ve read it at least five times.

It’s my favorite book. Ever. I long to write like Barbara Kingsolver. Her words seem to dance off the page effortlessly – and her description of Africa sets an ache deep in my soul. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of grotesqueness and beauty and confusion and preciseness…

Set in Kilanga, Congo, Kingsolver’s work attributed to my love and connection to Africa long before my feet ever touched the soil. There are so many reasons this book resonates with me. I see myself in Nathan: my pride all too often gets in the way and I lack the discernment to listen to the wisdom of those around me. When this monster comes for a visit, the result is always the same: I know what’s best. I cling to what I think is best. Nothing can change me. And then I crash and burn – realizing with newfound humility my way means nothing in light of the sovereignty of Christ.

I see myself in Adah. Oh, I see myself in this girl. Creative. Misunderstood. Brooding. Shy. Did you know I had an imaginary friend growing up? I did. And I talked to myself. I would sit in my room, on my bed, and create these fantastical stories all the while whispering to my confidante. I was made fun of – my glasses and braces and crimped hair leading to nicknames seared in my heart’s memory. I sat alone often. But, I was okay with this after awhile. And eventually, I came into my own – realizing the gimp leg I thought was my lack of self-confidence really was just a misnomer. I was confident. I did have stories worthy to share.

But most of all I see myself in Leah. And I wish I could say otherwise. I wish I could be chic and say Adah is my soul twin – which – probably isn’t too far from the truth. But I empathize with Leah’s absolute need for approval feeding into an unhealthy dose of perfectionism. My love language? Words of affirmation? Yeah…just another tally mark in my quest. I know what it’s like to strain so far for someone else that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. And, I know the beauty of returning home – of finding your footsteps belong in the dirt of a continent that captured your heart long before you ever knew its importance.

At the beginning of the book, Orleanna speaks about how sometimes Africa comes and visits her when she leasts expects it. Smells invade her senses and suddenly it’s all she can do to run, crawl, swim, dance, careen and somersault her way to the place that caused so much heartbreak and growth. I get this. I know this. In fact, while rereading this part recently, I literally jumped off the chair and turned circles with excitement. I miss Africa so much that it physically hurts sometimes – and it’s so hard for me to understand because of what it did to my heart, but it’s home. Even if going back means revisiting emotions tough to process and heavy to endure.

The first time I read Kingsolver’s book I immediately knew I wanted to teach it someday. I didn’t know how I’d incorporate it into my class, and up until this year, I’ve relied on excerpts to show the power of diction or voice. This year, I finally get to accomplish my goal. The students read the book for their summer assignment and we are currently talking about it in class. I can’t wait to see what comes of our discussions.

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