Picture the book. A missionary family in an alien culture. A hyper-zealous minister disregarding his crushed wife who grapples with the isolating, limited life such an existence affords to her and her children. Implicit narratorial doubts over the imposition of a culture and belief system on a centuries-old culture.
You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right? I must be talking about The Poisonwood Bible! (Officially in the top 5 (top 3?) of The Room of Joy’s Best Books of All Time, the story of a missionary family in the African Congo) Unfortunately, it’s also the synopsis for admittedly a VERY different novel: Karin Altenberg’s Island with Wings. I know – the competition makes it a tough gig. But how did it measure up? Well, in 100 words:
1830s Missionary Neil Mackenzie and wife Lizzie face a totally alien way of life on the remote Hebridean island of St Kilda – an ancestral, mystical place of dirt, struggle, superstition and death. Ministering to this community is a challenge that stretches Neil to troubling extremes that sacrifice his mental wellbeing, his family relationships, and arguably his humanity. Meanwhile Lizzie, serially bereaved of her children, faces the reality of total isolation and complete disempowerment. Skilful in bringing this wild island and its people to life, it is overall depressing and often clunkily dependent on historical facts. Not a crowd-pleaser.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Go and read The Poisonwood Bible. NOW.