Soviet Martyrology

As a Soviet child, I was forced to worship at the altar of the Communist martyr Patrice Lumumba long and hard. I thought this concluded my penance at the feet of this particular saint but no. I’m now plunged straight back into the Soviet martyrology as I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

“The native wisdom against Western depravity” trope married to “America as a force of evil” by the power of the favorite Soviet martyr – what’s not to like?

I suffer, so you will suffer with me as I keep posting about this novel.


13 thoughts on “Soviet Martyrology

  1. In defense of the Poisonwood Bible. I read it as a teenager. At that time, I was significantly more conservative than I am today. I recognized then that the father preacher character was a strawman and the book was a feminist attack on traditional religion and family. And yet I found the book compelling. I suspect that I was intrigued by stepping into a world that was radically different from my own (the essence of good literature). This was only heightened by the fact that I was clearly not the book’s intended audience. Something that I did not appreciate at the time, that I only realize now that I know more about leftist thinking, is the perverse “redemption” narrative. The white American Christian women are “redeemed” by the African villagers from their white Americanness as well as the tyranny of patriarchal religion. Obviously, this is far more condescending of actual Africans than trying to convert them to Christianity.


    1. Ah, don’t tell me there’s going to be redemption on there, too. I haven’t gotten that far but surely, not that as well?

      Is there any aspect of the “good savage” theory that this author doesn’t love?


      1. Oh, but look at you …

        When Aldous Huxley played the John the Savage card, he made it so that it was obvious to anyone with critical faculties that this was precisely what he was doing so he could openly mock the dystopia around that character from all perspectives.

        This was done so that the reader could appreciate the irony as well as the societal orientations and juxtapositions.

        Within American literature, the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court serves the same kind of function in which the character isn’t fully birthed with depth, but instead serves as an intelligent character foil so that the circumstances in the story may be further interrogated without narrative exposition.

        This is important because it’s by going deep with too much narrative exposition that American writers can alienate American readers the easiest, by pushing some agenda masquerading as a story within a story.

        And to everyone else it’s abundantly clear when this happens that the author didn’t have enough real story to tell so that they could be forgiven for telling a crap story alongside it with its own agenda.

        You just haven’t opened up to the idea that “Demon Copperhead” is potentially just as awful a novel, and you have yet to see the mechanism by which it hides its “Poisonwood Bible” roots.

        But calling out the “savage card” means you’re on the right track.

        Don’t hate me when I finally deconstruct the “fussy woke lady” and her covert agenda of cherry picking the people she hates the most by choosing to write about them, especially when it doesn’t go where you might first suspect.

        Bottom line: a shit story with amazing aesthetics is still a shit story, but the amazing aesthetics may be anaesthetics that keep you from sensing where the shit story really starts.

        If I keep this up, I suppose something PK Dick like will come out of it. 🙂


        1. I would forgive any amount of wokeness if there was literary talent in the book. My favorite writer Rafael Chirbes was a Communist. And I’m in raptures over his books because all I care about is the aesthetic pleasure. In a talented writer, the art always wins over ideology. In DC, Kingsolver channels a very conservative sensibility that as a person she clearly doesn’t possess. The art became stronger than the ideology because there is art in the book. In PB there’s no art. Only vapid lecturing.


    2. ” stepping into a world that was radically different from my own”

      I haven’t read (and wont’ read) the book but the former Belgian Congo in the early 1960s was one of the most turbulent places on earth (keeping the various massacres and rebellions and political coups and betrayals straight is probably difficult even for experts) and an even superficial knowledge of what some of the rebellion leaders were like and what they did should shock anyone out of idealizing leftist (or any other) politics in Africa…. think 30 year war fought with 20th century weapons and you might get an idea….


  2. Btw, I tried reading “The Poisonwood Bible” a few years ago but didn’t finish.

    Her collection of essays I had read and it is void of interesting ideas.

    How can “Demon Copperhead” be good, when other works aren’t? Is her writing in “Demon Copperhead” better than in “The Poisonwood Bible”?

    I understood “Demon Copperhead” is this English novel of the crisis described by Bauman that I had been searching for, right? Will try it the moment it appears in the library.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s absolutely the crisis novel in English we’ve all been praying for. And it’s a flipping masterpiece.

      How it is humanly possible for a fussy woke lady who hasn’t met a literary banality or a cultural stereotype she doesn’t like to create a masterpiece all of a sudden, I don’t know. Both The Poisonwood Bible and Demon Copperhead are clearly written by the same person yet one is abysmally horrid while another one is a Grapes of Wrath-type towering achievement. One is superficial while another is deep. One is badly written while another is devastatingly beautiful.

      But hey, this happened before. Cervantes wrote Galatea but then came out with the Quixote. Who knows why?


      1. Well to be fair, Demon Copperhead wasn’t good because of its absolute lack of stereotypes. It’s just… the story kinda allows them (you’ve mentioned that the Dickens influence isn’t much, but I feel it actually helps here – a Dickens story works even with most of the characters being quite flat) and the narrator, unlike the Price women, has an actual personality.

        Also, I’d guess it easier to write stereotypical claptrap about a culture you haven’t lived in since you were a kid. You think you know it, but don’t actually know it, and rely on a lot of third-party sources – and if you’re a nice woke lady, you’ll likely pick sources that will confirm your biases.

        Looks like I need to find a third book from this author and see which one was the exception, Poisonwood or Copperhead.


        1. The whole underlying idea of DC is that people in Appalachia shouldn’t be reduced to degrading stereotype. High-school dropouts with an opioid addiction can be interesting, complicated, intelligent people. And the entire organizing idea of PB is that people a little more to the South can and should be reduced to the hoariest stereotypes. They are dumb, bigoted, and just plain horrid.

          But that’s content. On the pure literary level, PW is just bad. It’s poorly done, unoriginal, badly constructed, badly written.


          1. It’s also curious that when Kingsolver rewrites Dickens, she manages to be completely original. But when she rewrites Charlotte Bronte, she is completely unoriginal.


            1. Now let’s do AI for plagiarism. 🙂

              Maybe the only thing going on here is that the rage-filled thing inside Kingsolver that causes her to hate Southerners, hate Southern Baptists, and so on has some odd quirk that forced her not to make a complete hatchet job of anything purporting to have the legacy of Charles Dickens.

              And so I present what may be another unpopular Modest Proposal.

              Barbara Kingsolver didn’t write “Demon Copperhead”.

              Charles Dickens wrote it for her, she coloured between the lines, and it was only in the faithful execution of a copy that Kingsolver didn’t fuck it up.

              Maybe. 🙂

              [sits here with my coffee cup behind a table like Crowder daring you to PROVE ME WRONG]


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