I had put off reading this book for years now, knowing that it would be an intense and challenging read. But I didn’t know how compelling of a story it would be, so fascinating that I stayed up late turning the pages that unfolded the Price family’s drama. I would say the first three-quarters or so would rate four stars, but that last fourth wandered away into long passages of inner monologue and reflection. The story faded off with out a satisfying finish.
Kingsolver tends to write her characters in extremes, particularly the villains. Her “good” characters are certainly complicated and flawed although one notable African man is far too noble and giving to be believed, his willingness to forgive just too constant. A fanatical minister Nathan Price, who brings his wife and four daughters to Africa, is so extreme in his views and so unrelenting in his ignorance and refusal to try to understand African culture on any level that the reader knows he is destined for tragedy and probably dragging his family into it with him. And yet…couldn’t he have been a touch more human? So the main female characters play out the story influenced by the extreme poles of a crazy white ultra-fanatical white minister and an intelligent, selfless black educator/political activist. Not that the story is that simple by any means and there are tons of other characters who come to bear in the story.
Where the story slowed down for me was once the slow growing crisis finally erupted and the Price family splinters, going on to develop separate lives and cope with tragedy and loss. This works for quite awhile as the PoV shifts between the women, all adults now, but then continues and continues. Granted, it is realistic that decades would pass as they continue to come to grips with all they’ve been through, but their stories became less engaging and their voices somewhat tedious.
I am over-emphasizing the flaws though. Overall, the book takes the reader into the Prices family and provides a view of the Congo in the 1960s that I had not seen before. After reading a lot of reviews both here and on Amazon, I saw that a number of white readers felt Kingsolver was pushing her own agenda and provided an unbalanced view of the role of the USA and Christian ministry. While agree that she had an agenda, she has every right to tell stories that present her world views. As far as her presentation of the ministry, it was very obvious that Nathan Price was considered a fanatic and a rogue of sorts, disliked by his own colleagues. And the role of the USA in manipulating politics all over the world to advance American greed is based on fact.
Discussing these points makes me recall how reluctant I was to start the book. It is intense and the story is multi-layered and leaves one with a lot to ponder and discuss. It does all this while presenting a compelling drama that kept me fully engaged (until close to the end anyway.)