Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Poisonwood Bible

"In the end, my lot was cast with the Congo. Poor Congo, barefoot bride of the men who took her jewels and promised the Kingdom." -Orleanna Price, The Poisonwood Bible (p.201)

What do I think of this book? It is a little difficult to say. I find that I neither love nor hate it, often changing my mind about it even mid-sentance. Maybe that is a sign of a good book since it aroused so many different feelings, but I am therefore unable to really recomend it to anyone else. So let me tell you what I think of the book bit by bit and you can decide what you want to think of it all.

This book is about a family led to the Congo by Mr. Price, husband to Orleanna and father to Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, to preach to the natives of a village named Kilanga the word of God. The world of differences from language to dress stand out as the white Prices try to join this community of black natives while holding onto their American ways. This way of thinking leads the family into many hardships; the father's point of view about God leads to many more. The story goes beyond their 17 month stay in Kilanga to what the girls and mother, and brief bits are said about the father, did afterwards.

While I like the story line of the plot, it is an interesting tale about a family most of us can relate to trapped in a world alien enough to be almost considered as another planet, and the way in which it was written, each chapter told from a different daughter's point of view, some of the content was lacking in my opinion. There were points in the story where I almost wished I could put the book down, although only rarely and briefly was this because of the slow pace of the story, mostly it was because of my dislike of the characters.
I believe the book was written for the reader to hate the father. That is just how it is. Mr. Price is a extremely hard man to like, driving even his wife and daughters mad over time. And the way in which the girls refer to him as "Father" (capitol F) is almost like they seem him as they would God, and he seems to encourage this point of view. There are points where I was mad at him for so much I soon began to wonder why Mrs. Price married him in the first place. Which is why the chapters in which she revisits the past are so important.
Soon I found myself also disliking Rachel. She is beyond annoying, reaching deep into the reader and finding that feeling of near detestation that one saves for those people who they know they will never be able to understand and find common footing with. She takes the state of narcissism to a whole new level, being so ego-centric, greedy, and holier-than-thou as to make me want to put her on a level with her father!And as a writer I was constantly gritting my teeth at her misspelled words and incorrect use of others.

So why did I even like the book? Because the others made up for it. You can't help but love many of the villagers for their simply way of living and thinking. When Leah delves into their life-style and explains it, everything suddenly makes sense. More than once I found myself wondering why I didn't live life this way. It even made me feel guilty for ever thinking that I had less than I needed, for these people sometimes didn;t even have enought o survive.
Then Leah was so intellegant and curious, her chapters help to explain so much about the world in which this family finds themselves, helping the reader along in thought.
Adah is so unique in her thinking that I found myself loving her chapter the most in the beginning. They were filled with little bits of poetry, riddles, codes, and other curiosities. Her chapters nearly always put a little smile on my face.
And Ruth May in all her young innocence made me love the view of the world that she held. While they each talk about the natives and their innocence, the girls are still left not fully understanding, and therefore unable to discribe, their way of thinking. However, with Ruth May her innocence is plain to her and so she makes you see her reasoning.

The last hundred or so pages had me torn the most. There were plenty of times when I believed the story should have ended at one point or another, only to keep reading and discover that more information had been given that I am glad had been added in for the reader's benefit. These girls' lives did not stop at the Congo, therefore they needed to continue to share their stories. And there were wonderful moments, beautiful times, sad events, and lives to be lived in those last hundred pages that I am so glad were there.

And the end! I think a better ending could not have been found. And it was a kind of wonderful moment as I read it: Most of this book I ended up reading aloud to Livia as we sat on the front porch. As I approach the last few paragraphs, she began to grow antsy. So with just the smallest bit left, I picked her up, stood her in my lap, and read to her the last few sentences, her cheek pressed to mine. As the words left I found my voice growing raspy with emotion, tears just beginning to threaten my eyes. I closed the book and kissed my daughter, who smiled. Such an incredible ending I believe that if all the rest of the book had been horrible, this would have made up for it.

So I leave the book with mixed emotions. At times I found myself wanting to rant and rave about how terrible the US is. How we always seem to think that we know the better way. But also how there are those that want so desperately to help these other countries that they put their lives on the line to stand up for what they think is best. I grew angry with Mr. Price, the epitome of everything I hate about organized religion. But sad when Leah feels she is abandoned by the God she tried so hard for so long to be good for. I loved the people of Kilanga for persevere through everything they are thrown. And I hated others for the harsh ways of life they threw at their own contrymen. As I have said, this book aroused many extreme feelings and left me wondering what I truelly thought of it.

I will say that I am glad I was given the chance to read it. It opened my eyes a little more to a world outside my own, and one that actually existed. I recommend that everyone read this book. Whether you think you will like it or not. Even if you put it down in the end and think that you hated it. I believe that you can get something out of it just as I have. Since this is a fairly popular book from what i have seen, please feel free to share your opinion in the comments section. I would really love to know what everyone else thinks about it.
And if you haven't, find a copy and read it. It may change you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


"This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination." -Frank Delaney author of Ireland

Let me begin with a discription of the novel. This is the story of Ronan O'Mara, beginning the summer when he was 9 yrs old and a travelling storyteller came to his home to tell tales. From the moment Ronan saw this man, in his eyes so powerful with the stories he told and the way he held people's attention, the little boy felt a connection with him. When the man left his house 3 days later Ronan began his search for him. Ronan began collecting history, stories given to him from the people who had heard the same storyteller, some tales from other sources. It took over his life because he felt pulled to the history of his people. So this book is unique in that there is a main storyline beginning in 1951 and choronicalling the story of this young man. But there is another story in there, the story of Ireland herself. Through this wonderful storyteller, Ronan, a history teacher, and other voices, the reader is given the chance to explore the history of this magical country.

All I can begin to say is that this book was truely amazing! I think I loved every little thing about it, so bare with me as I begin my review of such a wonderful work of literature.

The story: The collection of tales interwoven throughout the novel are fantastic. At one point the Storyteller admits that each of the tales he tells is at least slightly embellished through retelling, memory, a little padding for effect. Even so, as a reader, I wanted to believe every little word; even the story of St. Patrick whom I do not like because of the real story behind him. I was inclined to love the tale of this man though I have come to dislike him!
Then there is the story underneath, the tale of young Ronan O'Mara! I was fascinated by his dedication to find the man he had only known for three days when he was nine. I felt each moment of elation as he got so close to finding him, and then the moments of great dissappointment when he came back with an empty hand. And the twists in this boy's story are just unbelievable, yet I was given the ability to simply accept them because it all really happened, right?

The voices: I read some of this book out loud to my daughter who simply likes the sound of words. As I read I often times found myself getting into character with each person who was speaking, knowing when they would be rushing through words, when to shout, when to stutter. These characters and their voices came to life for me. There is a chapter about a third of the way through the book that is told from the point of view of a professor. Within two sentences I knew it was, it sounded like a man standing in front of a lecture hall talking, waving his arms about, pacing the front row, speaking to eager young minds. I could see him. I read this chapter in my mind and I had the voice of this professor. Through nearly all the book my mental voice held an Irish accent! At one point I even found myself reading one of the little mini-stories out loud to Livia in an accent! These characters were very much alive for me throughout this book.

Which speaks to the writing: I am now a big fan of Frank Delaney! I loved every moment reading this book. At the end I felt slightly disappointed to have to put it down. Even going so far as to close the book, hold it to my chest, and sigh at having been able to read such an amazing book. Have you ever done that? If you haven't then you have not read a masterpiece. Yes. I would go so far as to say this was a work of art. This is a book I will remember forever. It will probably be in the suitecase when I finally get the chance to visit Ireland, eager to see the country through the eyes of Ronan and the travelling Storyteller.

At the beginning of every review I place a quote from the book I have read, one that I think speaks for the book itself. It was hard with this one. While sometimes I even have to flip through the book once I am done to find a sentence because none struck me as I read, this time I have about 10 tabs marking memorable bits. I would like the chance to share the others with you now:

"As you probably know, nobody can actually write a poem. There's no such act as writing a poem. That's not how poems are made. Oh, yes, there's the physical business of pen, ink, and paper - but that isn't whence the poem comes. Nor may you send out and fetch a poem from where it's been living. No, like it or like it not, you have to wait for a poem to arrive." -p. 217

"There's an English gentleman called Chesterton, a decent fellow by all accounts, quite ample around the waist, who says that "the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad. For all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad." He's entitled to his opinion." -p. 269

"Don't get me wrong, Father. And I'm sure every woman who ever loved a son has had this thought. They want to hold that son, feel the strength they gave to his shoulders, run their hands around the head that contains his brain, the head they gave him, stroke the cheek he has just begun to shave. And then you look into the eyes, and you see the eagerness there. Life to be devoured and all that." -p. 320

"I live by a guiding principle that I learned in Rome (of which eternal city more another time); "Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge."" -p. 325

"You can't make up history! I mean, you can - but 'tis called something else, 'tis called 'propaganda' or 'the Lives of the Saints' or 'autobiography' or something like that." -p. 399

" "The problem is, people from county Carlow are always either going somewhere or staying at home." Many times have I puzzled over his remark, but I can not make out what he meant." -p. 461-2

"After all, in some of our earliest and wildest mythologies, our gods mated with the earth, and our ancestors chose to lie in the earth after they died." -p. 566

So for those that have made it this far, I must say that through all this that I have to say about this incredible read, it does nothing in comparrison to you reading it yourself. So give the book a shot, pick it up dispite it's thickness, and walk into the story of an island filled with magic. You may not love it as much as I did, but you will not regret reading it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anna Karenina

"In his Petersburg world, humanity was divided into two absolutely distinct categories, - the one of a low order, trivial, stupid, and above all ridiculous people, who declared that one husband ought to live with one wedded wife, that girls should be virtuous, women chaste, men brave, temperate, and upright, occupied in bringing up their children decently, in earning their bread, and paying their debts, and other such absurdities. People of this kind were old-fashioned and ridiculous." -Vronsky from Anna Karenina (p.118)

While I do own this book, my copy is currently in a box in storage, so I had not planned on reading it this year. However, I recently joined the Five Alarm Books Club and this was one of the two choices for July. So why I am reviewing it in the middle of August? Especially when I began reading it in the middle of June to get a head start? Well, because I tried to keep reading the books off my shelf while tackling this behemoth. As you can see, it didn't work so well when I picked up Ireland (the next to be reviewed by me) a book just as hefty as Anna Karenina. Finally, I decided to put aside my book shelf to finish this one that I was on a dead line with, and so here I am, finally finished, and glad I pushed through.

So, the book is named after one of the lead characters, and while I understand that she is involved in the lifes of each character, I think it might have been best if Tolstoy had picked a title more along the lines of "Life In Society" or "Days of Russian Lives". I think naming after Anna was not such a good idea. Especially since Anna has to be everyone's least favorite character. (If I am wrong, and you happened to like Anna, please let me know, because every review I have seen so far puts Anna down. I would love to hear form someone with a different opinion.) I know I am not a big fan of Madame Karenin, but instead prefer Levin and Kitty as my top picks of the book.

And while I did manage to learn a bit more about society, farming, and politics in the "filler" between events in the story, I could not help but find myself comparing these bits to the chapter on whale fat or flotsom and jetsom found in Moby Dick (the chapters we were not made to read because it was completely irrelevent. I am sure all that was interesting to some people at the time at which the book was written, but to us now it is simply details to fill in the gaps in the story. In my opinion, that is.

There were times within the last 30 or so pages when I thought the story should have ended at the last major event, but it kept on going. Once I reached the end, however, I found that I was wrong. 1) it is best that the story began and ended with the focus on Levin. 2) The final reflections I think ended the story very well. Adding something to the narrative and characters that was needed. 3) I think it Tolstoy showed how necessary it was to know how that last major event affected the other characters. I was in fact a little surprised by the reaction it got from one character in particular, but that is all I will say on that.

As I have said, I am glad I took the time to push through this novel when I should have been done or given it up 2 weeks ago. And with the movie coming out soon, I am glad I have a better understanding of the story than if someone had simply explained it to me. I do recommend that everyone take the chance to read this book at some time in their lives. t is a classic for a reason, and I believe it wears that title rather well. This story has a very complex series of battles that each character must deal with including, but not limited to: infadelity, unrequited love, scandel, bankruptsy, and wavering friendships. And it all takes place in roughly 1800's Russia when things were much more strict than they are now.

So pick up the book and give it a chance. You might be surprised at how much relevance this book has on to today's world view. And even how much you might find yourself enjoying Anna sordid tale!