In this section of Book Five: Exodus, we see the Price family dealing with the loss of Ruth May. As soon as she dies, Orleanna has to keep moving, and marches straight out of Kilanga with her remaining daughters. When they finally reach Bulungu, Rachel finds Eeben Axelroot and leaves with him for South Africa. When Orleanna finds a way out of the Congo, she can only take one daughter, and gives Adah the validation she has always craved by choosing her. Leah stays behind with Anatole who nurses her back to health from her terrible bought with malaria.
Through their exodus, Leah and Adah begin to understand how being the sole survivor of his company shaped their father and his view of God. His guilt and shame were so great that he could never believe God would forgive him, and in turn, sentenced himself “to pay for those lives with the remainder of his” (Adah, 491)
When Orleanna and Adah reach Bethlehem, Ga., Orleanna takes up gardening, apparently “determined to grow tragedy out of herself like a bad haircut” (Adah, 484), before moving to Atlanta to get involved with the civil rights movement. Adah enrolls at Emory University with the intent to go on to medical school. Rachel settles into life in Johannesburg, fitting in to get by and cycling through a series of marriages. In many ways, Leah, who had always followed in her father’s footsteps, feels the most guilt for their time in the Congo and commits to a life of suffering. While she and Anatole are deeply in love with one another, their choice to be together and Anatole’s commitment to bring justice to the Congo makes for a very hard life. It’s through their relationship that we most clearly see the unrest, violence, and corruption surrounding and invading the Congo.
Survival; Colonialism; Injustice
- Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on. (Orleanna, 455)
- Father wouldn’t leave his post to come after us, that much was certain. He wasn’t capable of any action that might be seen as cowardice by his God. And no God, in any heart on this earth, was ever more on the lookout for human failing. (Leah, 466)
- Carry us, marry us, ferry us, bury us: those are our four ways to exodus, for now. Though, to tell the truth, none of us has yet safely made the crossing. Except for Ruth May, of course. We must wait to hear word from her. (Adah, 492)
- “But, Aunt Adah, how can there be so many kinds of things a person doesn’t really need?” I can think of no honorable answer. Why must some of us deliberate between brands of toothpaste, while others deliberate between damp dirt and bone dust to quiet the fire of an empty stomach lining? (Adah, 524)
- I’ve heard foreign visitors complain that the Congolese are greedy, naïve, and inefficient. They have no idea. The Congolese are skilled at survival and perceptive beyond belief, or else dead at an early age. Those are the choices. (Leah, 539)
- Anatole explained it this way: Like a princess in a story, Congo was born too rich for her own good, and attracted attention far and wide from men who desire to rob her blind. The United States has now become the husband of Zaire’s economy, and not a very nice one. Exploitive and condescending, in the name of steering her clear of the moral decline inevitable to her nature. (Leah, 543)
Questions to Ponder
- When Orleanna returns to Georgia, she grew an extraordinary flower garden. Adah observes, “she was an entire botanical garden waiting to happen.” What do you think this signifies?
- In her dreams, Adah is visted by Ruth May and the 31 children who died during the 17 months the Prices lived in Kilanga. Although she carried out of Congo “a ferocious uncertainty about the worth of a life,” she decided to become a doctor and eventually goes on to study viruses, including the very viruses that killed some of those children. Why do you think this is? What does this tell you about Adah?
- What is the significance of Book Five being titled “Exodus,” and how is that reflected in each of the Prices throughout the section?
*Quotes cited according to 2003 HarperTouch edition.