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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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What We Carried Out (Continued)


(Cluster 5: Anatole is arrested again, but eventually released. The sisters get together for the first time since Ruth May’s death, Adah seeks to understand her mother, and Leah and Anatole and the boys finally are able to move to Angola and to a better life.)

Leah Price Ngemba: Kinshasa, Rainy Season 1981


Anatole is in prison again. He was arrested on their return from their third visit to the states. The authorities had confiscated his passport at the airport, then reappeared in the middle of the night to arrest him. Leah spends weeks going from one authority to another in her attempt to find out where he is and what he has been charged with. Finally she is told that the charge will probably be treason, that is, "anti-Mobutuism." Leah begins to realize how thoroughly she had relied on Anatole and to understand the chances he took in even being associated with her. She curses herself for her whiteness, wishing she could wash it off. She longs for Anatole as the one person who has forgiven her for being white.

Rachel Price. The Equatorial, 1984


Adah, Leah and Rachel have a reunion, which Rachel characterizes as a "complete disaster." It was Leah’s idea as she wanted something to do while waiting for Anatole to get out of prison. Also, a trip makes a convenient way for Leah to take possession of a Land Rover that was being sent from the U.S. to Kinshasa for Leah and Anatole. Leah’s older boys are in school in Atlanta (so they won’t get arrested too, according to Rachel), and the youngest one is spending some of the summer with Orleanna. Orleanna had raised the money to purchase the land rover. Adah would ride on board the ship with the land rover as far as Spain, and then drive to West Africa. Leah and Rachel would meet her in Senegal and travel together for a few weeks. After that, Adah would fly back home, and Leah and Rachel would drive as far as Brazzaville together.

The three girls begin the trip by arguing and finish it in silence through Cameroon and most of Gabon. They meet Anatole in Brazzaville and head for Kinshasa. Rachel finds Anatole and Leah’s affection for each other particularly distastefully. She is also angry because Leah refuses to visit the Equatorial even though Rachel herself acknowledges that she would have had a problem letting Anatole into her "upstairs" rooms. Leah accuses her of white supremacy, and the two laps into silence for nearly the whole of two countries.

During one of the afternoons when the sisters are actually getting along, Leah shares the latest news of the people of Kilanga and of their father who is now dead along with their childhood friend Pascal. Rachel has difficulty even remembering some of the people that Leah names.

Nathan, according to Leah’s information, received the blame for the loss of a boatload of kids that had been capsized by a crocodile. The people chased him with a stick. When he climbed one of the old Belgian watchtowers, they set the tower on fire. Adah recalls a verse from the Apocrypha prophesying exactly such an end. Ironically, Nathan received his own "verse."

Adah: Atlanta, January 1985


Adah tells her mother about her father’s death and comments on the everlasting effect Nathan had on them all. Her mother has moved back to Sanderling Island where she often stands barefoot on the sea wall, staring across the ocean. Adah says she is constantly addressing the ground under her feet, begging forgiveness.

Adah herself, in some ways, regrets the curing of her crippled condition. She understands that the condition which made her unique also made her more than the sum of her two halves.

When Adah finally tells her mother about Nathan’s death, Orleanna responds by going into the garden and planting her pansies. Adah mistakenly thinks her mother wants to forget, but what she really wants is the right to remember. She is hurt that no one in Bethlehem ever asked her how Ruth May died and that the people she worked with in the civil rights marches knew she had a twisted evangelistic husband left in the Congo, but acted as if it was an embarrassment to them. Adah finally feels the freedom to tell her mother that she hated her father.

Leah Price Ngemba: Kimvulu District, Zaire, 1986


Leah, Anatole and their four boys have moved to Kimvulu District where they are helping local farmers on a soybean project. This is the communal farm project for which they needed the Land Rover and that Rachel had ridiculed earlier. Their situation is a little better than in their previous home, but they still look for an opportunity to move to Angola, a small country that wrested its freedom from Portugal and fought off American attempts to end its sovereignty. She waits while the war goes on, feeling guilty by virtue of her own heritage.


The Price daughters share observations on each other. During the reunion, Rachel sees that Adah and Leah still have a special way of communicating that shuts everyone else out. In her opinion, however, Leah’s plan for getting the three of them together was self serving-merely a way to break to boredom of life with Anatole in prison and a scheme for getting a land-rover to Africa at minimal cost. She does not understand the genuine need that Lean and Anatole have for the vehicle; furthermore, she continues to hold Anatole’s color against him and has reservations about letting him into her all-white hotel. She never learns to think of him as a brother-in-law. Rachel will always think of the African people as "them" and will forever place herself on a pedestal above them. Her analysis of other people is colored by the self-centered view she has of herself.

Leah’s primary concern is for Anatole. She realizes the real sacrifice he has made for her as well as for his own people. It is ironic that while Rachel continues to snub black people, Leah is grateful to Anatole because he has forgiven her for being white.

Adah has the primary insight on her mother. Orleanna is mildly insane, but not to the point of being unable to function. She sees her mother’s lifelong plea for forgiveness and is finally able to communicate with her. Perhaps she is able to see that while she lost her crippled condition, her mother became emotionally crippled in her place. She is able to connect with Orleanna’s need to remember because she too feels that in being freed from her disability she has lost something she would have preferred to remember.

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Ruff, Karen DA. "TheBestNotes on The Poisonwood Bible". . 09 May 2017