Brilliant. Now, that is no sort of measured critical reaction but it is how I feel I must begin – with a one-word shout of praise for this superb epic novel.
It is a novel predominantly about Africa, or, more precisely, the Congo: about what first the Belgians then the Americans have done to it. Any publisher will tell you that whereas novels about India thrive, those about Africa are ‘difficult’. The market, it seems, isn’t much interested in that continent, except for South Africa. I think Barbara Kingsolver was well aware of this. She knew that only by making the political personal would she succeed in grabbing attention. So she tells her tale in the voices of a mother and her four daughters, ranging in age from five to fifteen when they all arrive in the Congo, from America, in 1959. It is a device that can be bewildering if the voices are not distinct, but here they are so strongly individual there is never any confusion.
But it is a man who dominates the major part of this vast novel, although he is never given his own voice. Nathan Price is the husband of Orleanna and father of Rachel, Leah,