Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Bean Trees: Chapters 8 & 9

We're reading The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.

Click for the posts on Chapter 1, Chapters 2 & 3, Chapters 4 & 5 and Chapters 6 & 7.

So many damaged people.

Taylor´s statement here rang true for me. In a way at least:

I thought I´d had a pretty hard life. But I keep finding out that life can be hard in ways I never knew about.

It´s not the actual sentiment, but the spirit of it that struck a chord with me. I don´t feel that I have, or have had, a particularly hard life. And I do know quite a bit about the other ways that life can be hard. But I still know exactly what she means.

I´m obviously in the midst of a challenging time here, and yet there are so many other people facing things that are so much more difficult or devastating. At the very least, things they didn´t consciously choose for themselves the way I did in my situation.

I don´t know if it´s one of those "learn a new word" situations, or if there really are more people around me than usual dealing with difficult times. Either way, I´d just as soon do without the frequent "things could be worse" reminders. As, I suspect, could the folks whose lives are providing them for my consideration.

Another quote that stuck out to me:

"...You think you´re the foreigner here, and I´m the American, and I just look the other way while the President or somebody sends down this and that, shiploads of telephones to torture people with. But nobody asked my permision, okay? Sometimes I feel like I´m a foreigner too. I come from a place that´s so different from here you would think you´d stepped right off the map into some other country where they use dirt for decoration and the national passtime is having babies. People don´t look the same, talk the same, nothing. Half the time I have no idea what´s going on around me here."

Well, again, it´s the feeling more than the words I´m identifying with here. Or maybe in this case it´s more the issue than the sentiment even.

I am, in fact, a foreigner here, and frequently forget that fact. Or, if I don´t actually forget, I go about my business and it´s not always on my mind. I don´t feel like a Costa Rican, certainly. But I yam what I yam and it´s normal to me.

It´s when I go back to the US that I feel the difference more, at least at first. I feel comfortable there in a way that I don´t here, and yet the differences are so obvious when I´m there for a visit, I am aware of having spent most of my adult life away from it, and I feel my (invisible) foreignness at those times.

And then of course there´s what she´s actually saying, about being a citizen of a country that commits acts she wasn´t aware of at the time, and which she finds horrifying when she does find out. I think most of us can identify with that.

It´s like Estevan says a while later:

"What would you do, Taylor?"

"I don´t know. I hate to say it, but I really don´t know. I can´t even begin to think about a world where peole have to make choices like that."

"You live in that world," he said quietly, and I knew this, but I didn´t want to.

I know this, more directly than a lot of people, having traveled in Central America while the conflicts were still fresh - or ongoing - in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. I was never in any danger myself from the wars, but I have seen these things up close.

An actual unexploded bomb on the ground in El Salvador, with a serial number and "Made in USA" stenciled on the side.

The tiny caves people dug into the hillsides near there, to hide in when those bombs fell - the old and infirm, anyone who couldn´t run fast enough, sometimes stayed in the caves, dirt holes maybe the size (and height) of your sofa, for days at a time.

People with missing limbs. Buildings in ruins. The sites of massacres.

I´ve translated, both in writing and in person, the accounts of people who have survived these things.

And, like Taylor, I still "can´t even begin to think about a world where people have to make choices like that."


Bob June 08, 2008 3:32 PM  

I find it interesting that both of the books we've done so far have pointed to the way that the United States has done things that are ... more than questionable ... on the world scene. First Southeast Asia and now Central America. I know that isn't why you chose them, and I also know that not all fiction does that, and yet here we are again. Does that say something about the "big kid on the block" USA?

And your own experiences in Central America back when the US was actively interfering in things... If you "can't even begin to think about a world where people have to make choices like that" then how much less so is it for those of us who have never seen anything close to that?

On to the chapters.

As you said last week (I believe it was), I'm really digging the characters - even the "walk-ons" (like the women in the park - with the paper and the bag). Lou Ann's realization of Turtle's real name shows that there is more to her than we have seen before and gives me hope that she can make a better life for herself. Esperanza's depression - heightened by the similarity between Turtle and Ismena, and Estevan's "calm" acceptance of her situation. All of this makes me wish we weren't more than halfway through the book, because I have the feeling I won't be ready to let go of the characters when the last page is read.

I'm also glad to see Taylor growing more. Both through learning of Estevan and Esperanza's life, and those of the other people in Mattie's sanctuary.

Next two chapters for next week, yes?

Jennifer June 08, 2008 3:35 PM  


And remember the next book, Pigs in Heaven, is a sequel to this one. Turtle´s a couple years older in that one, so you´ll see more than what we have time to see in the last 1/3 if this book.

Anonymous June 08, 2008 4:15 PM  

I'm again struck by what an ass Angel is, showing up after Louann starts to get her life in order.

Taylor's strange combination of toughness and naivete struck me. She didn't blink about Turtle's abuse but didn't know about torture.

pidomon June 08, 2008 7:31 PM  

i'm sorry i didnt get my reading done this week (too busy feeling sorry for myself i guess :) )

I will catch up for next week I promise

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