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Free Study Guide-The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver-Free Summary
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(Cluster 4: Leah finds ways to survive back in the Congo and Rachel weathers relationships with one more man.)

Leah Price Ngemba: Kinshasa, 1974

Summary

The names of the Congo and all its villages have been changed to African names by the government of Mobutu. The Congo itself has been changed to "Zaire." Leah and Anatole now have three boys and have also included Aunt Elisabet and her daughter as part of their household.

Adah sends her a newspaper with some personal notes. Supposedly, Congress is about to investigate the military coup, takeover by Mobutu and killing of Lumumba. Leah sees it as a joke, the American government doing nothing but showing the Congo a mirror of what they already know. Meanwhile Mobutu will change the map to make a show of African names and independence while falling over his feet to make deals with Americans who control the cobalt and diamond mines.

Leah explains the effect of politics on their lives after Elevee, one of the school children comes to tell them that she is leaving school to become a prostitute with her mother. Surviving in Kinshasa is a continuous routine of bargains and bribes for everything from postage stamps to long distance phone calls. Meanwhile, Mobutu has arranged for two internationally known boxers to come to Zaire for a match-for which they will be paid 5 million American dollars each. Leah says that they will take their money and go, never knowing that no public employee outside the military has been paid in two years, nor that one of Mobutuís most infamous dungeons is under the very stadium in which the match will take place.

Food is difficult to get with the un-nutritious manioc being their primary staple. It is impossible to grow their own vegetables, yet Leah sees that she is much better off than most of the people in Kinshasa. She tries teaching school to help supplement their income, but she has no patience with the spoiled children of imported miners. After a semester of listening to complaints about missed television shows and other luxuries, Leah quits and stays at home with her own boys.

Rachel Axelroot DuPree Fairley. The Equatorial, January 1978

Summary

After enjoying the perks of her boyfriendís diplomatic service in Brazzaville, French Congo for a short time, Rachel discovers that a man who leaves his wife for a mistress is no catch. She gets "lucky in love" and marries Remy Fairley, an older man who dies, leaving her the Equatorial Hotel north of Brazzaville. She receives a lot of traffic from foreigners on their way to one project or another. The hotel is kept for "paying guests", which effectively excludes the blacks, even the chauffeurs. However, she built a second patio and bar away from the primary mansion so the servants would have a place to go without being tempted to hang around the main bar.


Rachel claims to enjoy the world she has built for herself although she expresses a little frustration over the fact that her mother and sisters have never visited her or given her a chance to show off her domain. She rationalizes that if they did come to see her, they would have to start respecting her. Still, she is unable to understand how Leah could have married an African.

In Rachelís viewpoint, the family fell apart after Ruth Mayís death, and Leah decided to pay for it by becoming the "bride of Africa." Adah, on the other hand, is "throwing her life away" with her pursuit of medical research. Rachel sees herself as having risen above the tragedies of their Congo experience.

Notes

Leah and Rachel, both spending their lives in Africa, are shown in sharp contrast. Leahís life is lived for her family, and her sympathies are for the African people and their hardships. She has little patience for spoiled white children. Nor does she attempt to shield herself from those hardships, but shares them and considers herself fortunate that she is better off than most of the people around her. She has no patience for the waste and extravagance of Mobutuís government but knows that her knowledge of their realities is itself a threat to their safety.

While Leah gives herself in love, Rachel strives to acquire love. There is no love between her and Axerootl, and she imagines that DuPree will give her the attention she craves. That doesnít work either, however. The statement that she finally got "lucky in love" is more accurate than she realizes-particularly the element of luck. Although we never meet Remy Fairley, he apparently genuinely cared about her. Once seems to have been enough, anyway, and she is content with the memory and with a world that she can manipulate into revolving around herself. While Leahís world revolves around her because she has given of herself, and her family and friends genuinely love her, Rachel is at last the "epicenter" of her own narrow continent because she has designed it thus.

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