The Next Chapter

Why fans of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver should read this Canadian book...

Columnist Aparita Bhandari suggests Barbara Kingsolver fans should read All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa.
Columnist Aparita Bhandari says if you liked The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, you'll love All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa. (CBC)
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Twenty years ago, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was an Oprah's Book Club pick. It's the story of an evangelical minister who takes his wife and four daughters on a mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Our columnist Aparita Bhandari has read it and she's also found a great Canadian match in All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver, pictured above at the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction holding her book Flight Behavior, published The Poisonwood Bible in 1998. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's a 600-page novel. It's a tome. The father is one of these impetuous evangelical priests that decides the whole family is going to Africa to the Congo. They have daughters ranging in ages from 5 to 16. They don't quite know what this place is or what they're going to make of it. It's a kind of cultural clash, almost a neocolonial type of perspective, with this American family from Georgia going to the Belgian Congo in order to proselytize. There are some really interesting moments. For instance, at one point the priest, Nathan, wants to do some baptism, except the river is filled with crocodiles.What's interesting is that the story is actually told through these five women. They're telling you the story about learning about this new place — the customs, but also a little bit of the political back and forth that's going on over there.

"Barbara has a way with words. The way in which she brought forward the political climate, without really beating you on the head with 'this is an issues book!' — I really appreciated that."

All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa

All of Us in Our Own Lives is a novel by Manjushree Thapa. (facebook.com/manjushree.thapa, Freehand Books)

"When I heard that Manjushree was coming out with a new book, I was quite interested and I was like, 'Well, what is this about?' She told me that it's about this whole 'aid business' in Nepal, in a very sort of in a self-deprecating way.

"Compared to The Poisonwood Bible, this is a slim book, 300-odd pages. But in those 300-odd pages, in a very deft manner, it puts forward the very complicated, layered, nuanced look at the world [of international aid]. The impetus for the story is that Ava Berriden is a Canadian lawyer originally adopted from Nepal by two very well-meaning Canadian white hippie parents. But her life is in a bit of a crisis. Her marriage has fallen apart and so she quits her corporate job in Toronto and moves to Nepal to start this new career in international aid. There are various other people. There is Sapana, this young village girl who's involved in very local ways in which aid is dispersed. There's a woman called Indira, who wants to be the first Nepali woman to be running a Nepali NGO, a non-governmental organization, so she's got aspirations. There's Gyanu who is Sapana's brother; he's working in Dubai as a chef. Through these different people and their experiences, Manjushree is able to provide a really complicated and yet very compelling narrative about what it means to receive aid."

Aparita Bhandari's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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