I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.
This was a surprise hit for me. It’s a doorstop of a tome, with a few dense, thickly written opening pages that I found distracting. After I became accustomed to the pace, though, I found I couldn’t put it down. It’s about a missionary family who move from Georgia, America to a remote village in the Belgian Congo. The majority of the novel is narrated by the four daughters of the family, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May, with a few chapters from their mother, Orleanna.
Nathan, the girls’ father, quickly reveals himself to be an unpleasant, emotionally abusive man, rigid in his belief and lacking the human side that made his predecessor in the village such a success. His ignorance of other viewpoints and cultures and his ‘unrighteous dominion’ over his family leads to the gradual breaking apart of the family, and their shunning by the villagers.
It seemed obvious to me that Leah was the centrepiece of the book, the sister that we were meant to identify with the most. Looking back, though, I suspect this might be one of those books where everyone has a different favourite, depending on their characters, in the same way that not everyone’s favourite March sister is Jo! Rachel is flippant, selfish and materialistic; Leah is steady, open minded and thoughtful; Adah is incredibly intelligent and observant; Ruth May is vibrant and adventurous, and lives in the moment. I loved the way we saw the villagers through the girls’ eyes, so at first they appeared outlandish and savage, but in time they developed into individuals with a rich and vibrant culture.
Right now this is my go to book for recommendations. Surprisingly not that many people have read it – I get the impression it was more popular in America than the UK, having featured in Oprah’s book club. If you’re looking for a new, challenging read, then you could definitely do a lot worse than this.