Rated: 5 stars
I really loved this book and the unique perspective we got on the different Africas of the girls and mother. The writing style is beautiful, the tale peppered with native words (Kikunye, etc.). Of course I can’t judge the authenticity of the language or the entire story and political subplots since I have almost no knowledge of the country and its past besides knowing that Congo has diamonds and gorillas aplenty. Africa itself is a diverse continent and I had few opportunities to devote myself to its history and present, so a book that sheds some light on it is very welcome.
We follow the story of the Price family through about three decades of their lives. I really liked the first half of the story when they are trying their best in the village. The latter half, when they scatter around the world, throws a bit less of a punch than the first part though it is still as awesome. What I didn’t like at first was the short chapters written in the mother’s voice. It took me a while to warm up to her broken psyche, but I really liked her in the end. She tried so hard.
My favourite girl of the sisters was probably Adah since she always saw through her father, but her lack of understanding for the plight of her mother put me off slightly, so she is tied with her twin Leah. Understandably, her anger at her weak mother is nothing extraordinary; we are talking about teenagers here, and that ones that were shipped off to Africa with no true understanding of where they were going. No right planning in any shape and form – they didn’t even know how much luggage they could take on a plane and what to take – and going without a full backing of the Methodist missionaries was a risk in itself.
Another problem they faced, besides the environment, was their own family members and their desires. I personally would have smacked the empty-headed Rachel for her behaviour, but then again you can’t reason with a self-absorbed and egotistical person. She really pushed my buttons with her snobbery and prejudice. She got the easy way out, I feel, out of the entire family and never really tried helping them. Yet one can’t but marvel at the way she gets her wishes fulfilled in the end.
Leah, the second sister, surprised me and I feel she is the one that changed the most – from a faithful puppy at the heels of her father to a competent woman, wife, and mother in Congo. I loved her idealistic and gentle husband, and I truly hope her life continued on with less drama and trouble than before.
Nathan Price disgusted me and even the sob-story about him being the sole survivor of an attack in the Philippines during the Second World War and his guilt did not make him any less of a bully. If he felt so goddamn guilty for being wounded and unconscious in a ditch, he should he found another way of making penance than to abuse and browbeat his wife with religion. Not to mention his missionary zeal dragging them to wild Congo and not returning home when strongly advised to do so.
Then again, there is no way to make such a man see sense. The only thing you can do is to turn your back on him and walk out. They are too self-destructive to care about other people, too pigheaded in their search for redemption, and too righteous to speak to the ‘heathens’ and learn something new. Well, I have no respect for such people, especially when they use all ammunition possible to make slaves out of women. Maybe my aversion to missionary works in general makes me a bit biased here. I don’t like missionaries of his ilk because their only goal is to raise themselves and not genuinely help or support the people.
Father Fowles was more to my liking and I’m sorry we didn’t see more of him. If your religion is supposedly about love, why such abuse and threats? Fire and brimstone, indeed. Nathan Price should have learned some compassion and love instead of memorising the Bible. It’s good you know your scripture, I guess, but perhaps learning the spirit of the words is more important than the words themselves, no? And I can say that without being a Christian in any shape or form. I respect all religions as long as they harm none, but I don’t follow any. Morality doesn’t need a divine judge to have power.
The village people proved to be better Christians than Nathan in the end – they gave the starving and overwhelmed family food, helped them survive all kinds of calamities, everything to make their lives easier even after the stupid white man shouted nothing but abuse and nonsense at them. He didn’t even care about their names or of their children, and still claimed to want to save their souls… The village leader Tata-Ndu truly earned my respect for his patience and forbearance.
This book is a must read – it’s got lessons about prejudice, misunderstanding, suffering, hope, love, family, death and the fascinating soul of Africa.