The Bean Trees
By Barbara Kingsolver
Completed March 17, 2012
My reading history of Barbara Kingsolver’s works is backwards. Most people start with her award-winning fiction, such as The Poisonwood Bible or The Lacuna, while others have been following her career since the beginning with The Bean Trees or The Prodigal Summer. Nope, not me. I first discovered Kingsolver through her non-fiction essay collections, High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder, and fell not only in love with her writing – but also her philosophy on the world and nature. Reading her non-fictional essays first gave me a unique perspective as I began to read her novels. While her essays provided data and hard facts on issues such as colonialism, environmental concerns, war and immigration, her fiction told the stories of how these devastating factors affect people. And that’s no different with Kingsolver’s first book, The Bean Trees.
In The Bean Trees, we meet a precocious young girl named Taylor, who decides to leave her hillbilly Kentucky town and head west in a beat-up VW bug. As she travels through Oklahoma, she stops at a local hole in the wall, where a Native American woman approaches her with a small child. The woman insists that Taylor take the girl, despite Taylor’s protest, and before realizing it, Taylor is entrusted with a young girl who seems catatonic. Not knowing what to do, Taylor continues her journey west, literally driving until the wheels fall off her car, ending up in Tucson, Arizona.
There, Taylor and the girl, who she nicknames Turtle, begin a life together. Along the way, we meet colorful, real-to-life characters who help Taylor and her quest to lay down some roots. Namely, we meet Esteban and Esperanza, illegal immigrants from Guatamala, who tell their story of horror and heartbreak. Through these characters, Kingsolver shows the human side of immigration – the “why” people take a chance on coming to America and risk deportation.
Kingsolver published The Bean Trees in 1988, and even at the start of her career, she was a magnificent storyteller. Certainly, like all writers, her craft has evolved, but she’s never lost sight of her values and desire to make a change. I liked the punchy, humorous style of this book, and I look forward to reading Pigs In Heaven, the next book about Turtle’s life, very soon. ( )