Top critical review
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Enriching Novel with Serious Flaws
on February 3, 2000
As others have said, this is really a book of two parts. The first half details the family's struggle as Congo missionaries. This is an engrossing and tragic story of an enormous clash of Western and African cultures told in multiple voices. I could not put the book down as I felt the useless pain being inflicted on so many people. While the literary devices Kingslover uses to separate the daughters' voices do get a little irritating at times, the perspectives are genuinely separate and add much richness to the story.
The second half of the novel, which follows the three surviving daughters for the next 30 years, is more problematic. While the account of Anton and Leah's interracial and cultural marriage is deeply moving, Leah does not seem to care that she is sacrificing her children's health to her and her husband's obsession with Africa--just as her father did to her. In addition, while I am generally on Africa's side, Leah's views change from refreshing to outrageous as the novel progresses. For example, Leah judges those Africans who enslaved others by local 15th century morals while she judges the western enslavers by modern standards. Also, in Leah's numerous speeches, the U.S. takes 100% of the blame hits for the Cold War meddling that tragically hurt Africa; even with my very limited knowledge of African history, I know that the USSR killed plenty of Africans and had a horrible effect on many African economies. Since Kingslover has Leah, a very sympathetic character, utter some extreme distortions without any challenge, I have to strongly doubt other historical and cultural facts she presents--rightly so according to some critics. Rachel, who a better novelist could have used to provide some thought provoking challenges to Leah's views, becomes an irritating mouthpiece for white supremacy and lacks any redeeming qualities. By the end of the novel, I had had more than enough of both Leah and Rachael! Since Kingslover has no realistic vision for positive change in Africa (Adah's thoughts about going back to subsistence agriculture are ridiculous given the huge population Africa now has to support), the second half of the novel basically is a highly biased political tract that has only one redeeming factor--the moving intercultural family story.