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For some reason, no one has written a best-selling book about the real-life 19th-century missionary John Mackenzie. When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives' land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie and his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact a land protection agreement. Without it, the nation of Botswana would likely not exist today.
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For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver's 1998 novel, , Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, "Jesus is beloved." In fact, the phrase means, "Jesus is poisonwood." Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver's none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.
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Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. The third and final book of the Hunger Games series. I liked books 1 and 2 much better, but Mockingjay tied things up nicely.
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I actually received The Lacuna as a gift quite some time ago, but what with the current state of the To Be Read pile, I only got to it late last year. I also procrastinated a little, not because I didn’t think it would be wonderful, but because one thing Barbara Kingsolver is not is a light read, and I wanted to be able to give it the attention it deserved. Needless to say, once I picked it up, I was sorry I hadn’t done so sooner – it’s quite simply beautiful. Then I procrastinated some more before writing this review because it’s quite hard to do such a lovely book justice.
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The Lacuna is set in Mexico and the United States from 1929 until 1959, and follows the complex life of Harrison Shepherd, a young man with a passion for writing and an unfulfilled desire to exist unnoticed. His early life is fraught with disappointing relationships, with his parents and with those he falls in love with, and his childhood is certainly not without trauma, some of which the author only hints at. He finds himself working for notorious artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and through his relationship with them, ultimately meets Lev Trotsky while the Bolshevik leader is in exile, becoming unwittingly caught up in a revolution. While there are many historical references, and the book is impeccably researched, it is still a work of fiction. I’m a major fan of historical novels, so these references were a big draw card for me, but make no mistake, even if you’re not a history buff, this is no dry text. The real story is the relationships, and the inner thoughts of the main characters, as is usually the case with Kingsolver’s work. She has an incredible knack for making you think about weighty issues such as identity, individuality, politics and so on, without detracting from the pure beauty of the story being told. Interestingly, The Lacuna is the only one of Kingsolver’s novels thus far that does not feature a female protagonist, but Harrison is ably supported by a number of interesting feminine voices throughout the book.