One never will be seen as wise
Who looks without another’s eyes
Sees only what he wants to see
In spite of what may truly be
I read the book “The Poisonwood Bible” a few years ago. It was on the best seller’s list and on Oprah’s Book Club. As an occasional viewer of her show in the past, I know that her book list is usually filled with good books.
The book was written very well. I didn’t want to put it down. The story unwound chapter by chapter, the tale of a fictional missionary family from Georgia, who moved to The Congo in 1959. (The history of The Congo was not fictional.) Each chapter spoke in the voice of either the mother, the oldest, middle, or younger twins. It was very interesting to get their different spin of what happened.
The book’s title was taken from the Father’s inability to speak the native language properly. Their word for “holy,” when pronounced incorrectly, meant “poisonwood” – which was to be avoided. Holy Bible – Poisonwood Bible. The father never bothered to learn the language or to understand the people of the village. His desire to baptize the children of the village was met with fear and they all avoided it because they thought he wanted to drown them. He never got one convert.
The father, hell-bent to win The Congo to Christ, never had a voice throughout the whole story. He clearly had issues. You see him through the eyes of his “victims” – his own family. You never care about him or his work. He did not love well. His own wife and daughters despised him for valid reasons. So you, as the reader, have no reason to love him. You as the reader have no desire to hear his version of what was happening.
The previous village missionary was removed from the post because he fraternized with the villagers to the point of taking a wife. He understood their beliefs, maybe even adopted a few of them, let them have their gods, lived and loved along side them – and was fired by the Christian organization who sent him there, for doing so.
At the time the story happens, the people of The Congo liberate themselves from Belgium’s rule. The people of the Congo had little to no rights, and whomever took control, ruled with an iron fist. The spoils of mining the land went to those in power while the inhabitants of the country lived in poverty. The corruption of the people in power was terrible. The book clearly outlined the evils of Capitalism ungoverned and at its worst. And of course, the United States played its role in the story. The history of The Congo is a tragic story.
I finished the book feeling a bit ashamed to be a part of capitalist America. Hmmmm. Mostly, I was not happy about the voiceless face it put on Christianity. In the eyes of the daughters, the sins of their father, became the sins of their country of origin, and ultimately, God. I do understand that much evil has been done in the name of Christianity and capitalism. The author of this anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, best-selling novel from Oprah’s Book Club capitalized on it.
PS: Why write about this now? I just wrote that poem above. It made me think of this book.