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Supported by Belgium, which had initially backed the Tutsi aristocracy and was instrumental in sparking the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, the Hutu-led "republic" that officially emerged in 1961 was essentially a dictatorship whose internal power struggles would help give rise to the killing. In April 1994, President Juvenal Habiyarimana, longtime Rwandan dictator, was assassinated and control of the nation was seized by a group of military leaders espousing a Hutu Power ideology. With stunning speed the regime planned and implemented a systematic slaughter of the Tutsi population, insidiously designed to invest the Hutus in their new leaders. The killing was carried out by ordinary Hutu citizens— friends, neighbors and even relatives of the Tutsis they killed—who were spurred on by Hutu Power radio broadcasts reminding them of their duty to spare no Tutsi "cockroaches." Contrary to the international perception of Rwanda as a collapsed state fallen into chaos, the genocide was, writes Gourevitch, "the product of order, authoritarianism, decades of modem political theorizing and indoctrination , and one of the most meticulously administered states in history." In the course of his nine-month investigation, the author traveled to Rwanda six times and interviewed numerous Tutsis. Their stories of their own narrow escapes and of the deaths of friends and family members comprise some of the strongest material in this book. The same is true for Gourevitch's increasingly personal observations as he describes his indignation at the international community's inadequate and ineffectual response to the killing. "The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda 's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it," says Gourevitch. "The horror, as horror , interests me only insofar as a precise memory of the offence is necessary to understand its legacy." His book transcends the atrocity of nearly a million violent deaths and dignifies the victims by providing that understanding . (ES) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver HarperFlamingo, 1998, 543 pp., $26 In 1959 the Belgian Congo was just throwing off its colonial shackles. It is a particularly inauspicious time for Kingsolver's protagonists, the Reverend Nathan Price and his family , to relocate to a Baptist mission in the Congolese jungle. The missionary whom Price replaces has "gone native," but there is no danger of that happening to Nathan, who is obtuse about native customs and sensitivities . In fact, one of the first things he does is to ignore the locals' advice about the irritating properties of the poisonwood tree. The family's story is told by Nathan's wife and their four daughters . The wife, Orleanna, is a provincial from the American South who only slowly emerges from under her husband's thumb. The four daughters are all quirky: The oldest continually ponders her social life and is given to malapropisms, one of the middle twins is a Diana-the-huntress type, and the other, who is lame, is obsessed with palindromes, while 190 · The Missouri Review the youngest daughter amasses a collection of malaria piUs behind her bed instead of taking them. One of the girls is going to die, we learn early on, but it takes her forever to do so. In the long interval before the tragedy, the Prices engage in innumerable misunderstandings with the villagers, involving such issues as baptism, the rainy season, the care of chickens, courtship rituals, and gardening , among others. Kingsolver's previous novels showed an exquisite feeling for family ¦ (both natural and adoptive), a wry sense of humor, and a combatively liberal political perspective. In this novel, however, that last trait is her undoing. Nathan Price, a hidebound fundamentalist (and therefore highly susceptible to stereotyping), is a character as flat as recycled cardboard; onlythewomeninthe family change. Kingsolver's Congolese villagers all have a childlike dignity, whereas most of the whites (other than the Price women) are pictures of covert or overt malice. This is not to say that the novel is without redeeming features. If you can forgive the. political shrillness, you will find The Poisonwood Bible a marvelous rendition of another time and place—a place very difficult to render because it is so isolated from modern civilization...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 190-191
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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