Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

One sentence plot

After 6-year old Turtle helps save someone’s life, she appears with her poor but devoted adoptive mother on television and is devastatingly spotted by a young lawyer from the Cherokee nation intent on proving the adoption invalid and placing Turtle with a Cherokee family.


The review

I didn’t immediately realize that this book is a sequel to Bean Trees, which I vaguely remember enjoying several years ago. Alas I couldn’t really remember the plot of Bean Trees, but the back story wasn’t necessary – it is recapped. In Bean Trees, in a car park in the desert, Taylor is given charge of a traumatized young girl who has been abused and beaten. In Pigs in Heaven, we find that Taylor has now adopted little Turtle (so-named because of her firm, turtle-like way of clinging to Taylor), and they are living quite happily in a dilapidated house with Taylor’s sweet musician boyfriend Jax. All is going swimmingly til Turtle spots a man falling down a hole, and by drawing attention, saves his life. She finds herself on the Oprah Winfrey show, where she is promptly spotted by a lawyer, Annawake. It turns out Turtle is Cherokee, and as such it was not legal to adopt her outside of the Cherokee Nation. Annawake, seeking to avenge the similar and sad fate of her own brother, pursues Taylor and Turtle to return Turtle to her rightful place within the Nation. Taylor is terrified of losing her daughter. Their lives are thrown upside down as they essentially go on the run, finding themselves falling into increasing, debilitating poverty, before they all end up in Annawake’s poor little town where we all learn not to judge a downtrodden, miserable-looking place – or person – by its cover. We all learn the importance and history and culture and traditions and food intolerances of the Cherokee people in a way I found informative, sad, inspiring, and above all, overtly preachy. Indeed, Kingsolver’s political agenda seemed to be driving the plot of this book. And when the ending comes, it seems contrived, and all too convenient to be believable. Indeed, I tossed down the book in frustration.

Overall, I did like this book, but it is clearly early Kingsolver, miles away from something as sophisticated as The Lacuna. Kingsolver’s political agenda is overt, overpowering things like characterization. Though Taylor, her mother, and Annawake are all interesting, I didn’t feel as invested in their fates as I would expect to – and I didn’t care much about personality-deficient Turtle herself. It felt more like many of them were there as representative characters to further the plot rather than people in their own right. Which is what I said about Savage the Bones earlier this week – hopefully not a reading theme that will persist! I did appreciate learning some history along the way, but not at the expense. The writing is of a good, Kingsolver-ish quality – I zipped through it rapidly and for the most part enjoyably.

The verdict: 3/5 shoes


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