Friday, June 08, 2007

Fear the Details Shall Disappear

I recently finished reading "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver and it completely blew me away. That is the kind of book I dream about writing. The characters stuck in my head for days, there were bits of dialogue that had me laughing out loud by my self (not that difficult, really, when the narrators are a bunch of girls from 1960's Georgia), and I even cried at the end of the book.

Another thing that really impressed me is how similar the Congo described in the book is to modern-day Chimoio, and to all of the rural areas we've visited in Mozambique. Many of the details in the novel - the kind of "Baptist donation bin" clothes people wear, including men donning "ladies' wear jackets", the way women pound manioc in giant mortar and pestles, the back-breaking labor that the women do while the men sit idly about, the long printed swaths of fabric used as wrap-around skirts over all other layers of clothes... It was all incredibly familiar, and I was left with the distinct impression that the author herself must have spent some significant time in her life observing the people and places of the Congo.

It's been a long time since I read a book that I enjoyed so much. I think the last one was "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay. Coincidentally both are books about childhood in Africa, told primarily from the perspective of young people growing up in countries in the midst of tremendous political change.

I was so in awe of "The Poisonwood Bible" - and really continue to be, truth be told - that it's been difficult to imagine sitting down to write something myself, even if just a blog entry.

I take solace in the fact that Barbara Kinsolver apparently wrote this book 30 years after her experiences in Africa. Many times I get in a panic because I fear that I will forget, or otherwise be unable to replicate, the experiences that I am having now in Mozambique. I'd very much like to write a proper book about what we've seen in others and lived through ourselves, but since I no longer keep a personal journal where I can write absolutely candidly, I fear the critical details of what I want to share will dry up and blow away if not recorded RIGHT NOW.

Yes, there is the blog, but there is a whale of information that I've not put up here over the last 2 years, either because it was somebody else's tale to tell (I try not to write about other people's dirt online), or it was the kind of story that I fear if published while we are still in the country could create some significant problems for us (as they have to do with blatant corruption and deceipt, both on the part of Mozambicans and foreigners we've come across).

I know that a tremendous amount of research went into writing "The Poisonwood Bible", that certainly the author didn't simply sit down and pour out all those fabulously accurate details in the space of a couple of months. I know she had to rely on other books on the subject, a KiKongo dictionary, the Bible, and friends and researchers up-to-date on the political and cultural happenings of the 1960's.

Thinking about this process, and the fabulous novel that resulted, gives me hope that I will be able to write the things I desire when the time is right. If Barbara Kingsolver was able to do it 30 years after the fact, then 5 of 7 shouldn't be too tragic for me, I imagine. Or even more, who knows. I am aware that hindsight will play a vital role in what I write and how I write it. The kind of understanding and perspective I hope for in my eventual writings about Mozambique cannot be forced to exist, and can only come about through good old time.


Left-handed Trees... said...

Your story will just be a fine wine--better with age and perspective, not worse! I'm sure of it. This was a truly inspired book...I read it years ago and absolutely loved it.

Lacithecat said...

Ali I also read the book and was just amazed. I think I walked around for a year and gave it as a gift to everyone I knew that read.

And you know that I think waiting is a good thing for you. It will come (and remember you live with half the story). Smile ..

Amber said...

Hi sweetheart!

Oh.My.GOSH! I know! I felt the same way about that book (even though I have never been to Africa). But it just stayed with me forever! It is still in my top five of all time. And I tried to read her other books after that, and they were not as good (to me). After, I thought about it as a writer, too. It is still inspiring to me.

Whatever you write, you will bring SO MUCH to it form your amazing life! I, for one, would be excited to read it. ;)



--jenna said...

you won't forget. you think you forget...and then you're sitting with friends, sharing stories over a beer, and before you know it, memories and details are coming from every crack and cranny of your brain...

i'm sure of it. (or i'm betting on it, as i'm doing the keep-mum-for-now-to-keep-alive routine as well...)


i'm looking forward to my autographed copy!!!

African Kelli said...

It is one of my favorites too. I read once that each character (daughter) is not only supposed to be a Biblical reference, but also an epoch in African history. That Kingsolver is one incredible author. Have you read her other stuff?
Are you back in Moz now? hope you are doing well. I can't wait to read your story one day.

Mandi said...

I read that book while living in Uganda in 1999 and it was both funny, moving and sad how dead-on she was about so many things. Thanks for the post -- it's a good reminder that I should really read this book again.

telfair said...

I loved that book, too. Barbara Kingsolver rocks and I'm about to do a post on her new book.

I agree with your assessment on the matter -- you can't rush things and you kind of have to let experiences percolate. When the time is right, the right words, stories, and characters will flow out of you, ready. If you try before then, it might just be a recipe for frustration.

Can't wait to read it when it's done, BTW.

alphawoman said...

I loved that book too. Another good Kingsolver book is Prodigal Summer. I loved that book also.

El Erik said...

I read that book on a lonely beach in Benin. It does make a strong impression

Rrramone said...

Such a great book! Have you read others by her??

Anonymous said...

no one really cares about every detail of your life you seem intensly self absorbed

Ali la Loca said...

~anonymous - make no mistake, I *am* incredibly self-absorbed...thus it should come as no surprise that I care immensely about those details of my life. In my opinion, that is the best motivation for writing - that the author is going through the exercise for his or her ultimate benefit, not to please or cater to anyone else.