The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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Rachel Price Character Analysis

Rachel, the eldest of the Price daughters, is portrayed as a rather narrow-minded, superficial young woman, who dislikes the Congolese more blatantly than anyone in her family except for Nathan Price himself. Unlike her siblings, Rachel makes few, if any, attempts to get to know her neighbors in the village of Kilanga, although her fair skin and good looks lead many in the village to stare at her. After the CIA-sponsored military coup in the Congo in the mid-60s, Rachel marries Eeben Axelroot in order to guarantee her own safety. Over the next 15 years, she marries a string of wealthy, powerful men, who provide for her but give her no spiritual satisfaction. Ultimately, Rachel comes to own a profitable hotel, which again provides her with money but leaves her feeling lonely and unfulfilled. Rachel is arguably the member of the Price family who grows the least over the course of the book: by the end of the novel, she’s still self-absorbed and superficial. The only lesson she’s learned in her life, she claims, is that the purpose of life is to look out for oneself.

Rachel Price Quotes in The Poisonwood Bible

The The Poisonwood Bible quotes below are all either spoken by Rachel Price or refer to Rachel Price . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of The Poisonwood Bible published in 1999.
Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nakedness,” Father repeated, “and darkness of the soul! For we shall destroy this place where the loud clamor of the sinners is waxen great before the face of the Lord.” No one sang or cheered anymore. Whether or not they understood the meaning of “loud clamor,” they didn’t dare be making one now. They did not even breathe, or so it seemed. Father can get a good deal across with just his tone of voice, believe you me. The woman with the child on her hip kept her back turned, tending to the food.

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Nathan and his family have arrived in the Congo. There, they’re welcomed into the Congolese village where they’ll remain for the next two years. Yet when Nathan is asked to say a few words to the villagers, his first instinct isn’t to extend his gratitude—instead, he uses his platform to rail against the Congolese way of life. Nathan attacks the villagers for their nakedness, implying that by refusing to wear clothes, the villagers are being sinful.

Nathan’s speech tells us a few things about the kind of man he is. First, it’s clear that Nathan is a strict, fundamentalist Christian: he has a rigid, unyielding understand of right and wrong—one that plenty of pious Christians would disagree with. Second, Nathan’s speech shows that he has no talent for leadership or politics—instead of trying to get the villagers on his side or show them any respect, he immediately treats them like naughty children. He’s so sure he’s right that he doesn’t care how many people he offends (and doesn't even care to learn the language of the people he's supposed to be "serving").

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Book 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

Anatole leaned forward and announced, “Our chief, Tata Ndu, is concerned about the moral decline of his village.” Father said, “Indeed he should be, because so few villagers are going to church.” “No, Reverend. Because so many villagers are going to church.”

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker), Anatole Ngemba (speaker), Tata Ndu
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Nathan Price begins to quarrel with Tata Ndu, the leader of the Congolese village where Nathan has been sent to practice missionary work. Although Nathan sees himself as doing God's work, Ndu thinks of Nathan as a nuisance, making the villagers lazy and putting their lives in danger.

The passage reinforces a point that was already obvious: Nathan is oblivious to the fact that most of the villagers don't care about his religion in the slightest. From their perspective, Christ is just another god to worship, and is even inferior to the gods already celebrated in the village. Nathan, so blindly devoted to his work (to the point where he doesn't spend time with his family), is genuinely surprised that Christianity has become so unpopular in the village, to the point that it is even seen as a bad influence on the village's morals. The fact that he's so surprised suggests that he's been a bad missionary, refusing to pay any real attention to his audience's feelings.

Book 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

Father said, “An election. Frank, I’m embarrassed for you. You’re quaking in your boots over a fairy tale. Why, open your eyes, man. These people can’t even read a simple slogan: Vote for Me! Down with Shapoopie! An election! Who out here would even know it happened?”

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker), Reverend Frank Underdown
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Nathan clashes with Frank Underdown, his sponsor and (often reluctant) supporter. Underdown tells Nathan and the rest of the Prices that there will be some sudden, potentially dangerous changes in the Congo: the Belgians are pulling out of the country altogether, and there may well be democratic elections in the Congo within a few months. Nathan—as condescending as ever—refuses to believe that there will ever be elections in the Congo. Based on what he's seen in his village, the Congolese are too foolish and disorganized to ever support a democratic movemen—they can't even communicate a simple political message to one another.

Nathan's position is almost nonsensical—he's ready to believe that the Belgians are pulling out of the country, but he sees no reason to believe that the Congolese have the wherewithal to replace their overlords with any other leadership. In short, Nathan seems to believe that the Belgians, with all their cruelty and hypocrisy, were the best thing for the Congolese, because they provided law and order that the Congolese could never provide for themselves.

Book 4, Chapter 60 Quotes

Until that moment I’d always believed I could still go home and pretend the Congo never happened. The misery, the hunt, the ants, the embarrassments of all we saw and endured—those were just stories I would tell someday with a laugh and a toss of my hair, when Africa was faraway and make-believe like the people in history books. The tragedies that happened to Africans were not mine. We were different, not just because we were white and had our vaccinations, but because we were simply a much, much luckier kind of person. I would get back home to Bethlehem, Georgia, and be exactly the same Rachel as before.

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 367
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Rachel reacts to the death of her little sister, Ruth May. Rachel has been living in a dream world up to this point: she's been living in the Congo, but she holds her community at a distance. In other words, Rachel thinks of her peers and neighbors as strangers—unlike her siblings, she makes absolutely no effort to get to know them (she's just counting the days until she's back in the U.S.A.) But Rachel can no longer pretend that her life in the Congo just a bad daydream: the Congo has killed her sister.

In this moment, Rachel's racism and self-absorption are made especially clear. She's always had an easy time distancing herself from her life in the Congo—not because she thinks the Congolese are necessarily inferior, but because she just assumes that they are "unlucky," and Africa could never become anything like America.

Book 5, Chapter 71 Quotes

What happened to us in the Congo was simply the bad luck of two opposite worlds crashing into each other, causing tragedy. After something like that, you can only go your own way according to what’s in your heart. And in my family, all our hearts seem to have whole different things inside. I ask myself, did I have anything to do with it? The answer is no. I’d made my mind up all along just to rise above it all. Keep my hair presentable and pretend I was elsewhere. Heck, wasn’t I the one hollering night and day that we were in danger?

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 465
Explanation and Analysis:

Rachel, now a grown woman living in South Africa, thinks back on everything that's happened to her family since moving to the Congo. Rachel has always held herself aloof from other people, even her sisters, and here she doesn't seem particularly upset by the fact that the family has essentially split up.

In other words, Rachel has always been selfish. She's so obsessed with her own beauty and wellbeing that she can barely force herself to care about her sisters or mother. Rachel isn't presented as an evil character, but rather one with a very "Darwinian" worldview—life is about looking out for one's self. Rachel acknowledges that she herself is fortunate enough to be white, pretty, wealthy, and American, but she doesn't feel that this means she "owes" anything to anyone else, or ought to help them.

Book 5, Chapter 73 Quotes

“Oh, Rachel, Rachel,” Leah said. “Let me give you a teeny little lesson in political science. Democracy and dictatorship are political systems; they have to do with who participates in the leadership. Socialism and capitalism are economic systems. It has to do with who owns the wealth of your nation, and who gets to eat. Can you grasp that?”

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker), Leah Price (speaker)
Page Number: 478
Explanation and Analysis:

Years after Ruth May's death, the remaining Price sisters reunite in Africa. During their trip across the continent, Rachel claims that the socialists of the Congo are immoral and un-American, and that Ronald Reagan is going to install democracy and freedom in the country. Leah, clearly impatient with her sister's small-mindedness, corrects her sarcastically, pointing out that socialism and democracy are unrelated concepts—one doesn't exclude the other.

Leah's exchange with her sister shows how ignorant Rachel is of the realities of global politics: Rachel is totally willing to believe that socialism is un-American, simply because Ronald Reagan says so. As teenagers, Leah and Rachel were equally ignorant of politics and economics, but now that they're adults, it's clear that they've grown apart, intellectually and emotionally.

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Rachel Price Character Timeline in The Poisonwood Bible

The timeline below shows where the character Rachel Price appears in The Poisonwood Bible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 2
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...yeast. Nathan criticizes these supplies, citing the Bible verse about the “lilies of the field.” Rachel, one of Leah’s sisters, mutters that the “lilies” don’t need Nathan’s Bible. (full context)
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On the flight to Africa, the Price family’s baggage is exhausting to carry. Rachel complains about the hassle of having to carry so many bags, but she also smuggles... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
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When Rachel Price arrives in Kilanga, her first thought is that “we”—the Prices—are badly outnumbered: there’s a... (full context)
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Out of the crowd, Rachel takes a good look at her siblings: the twins (Leah and Adah) and Ruth May.... (full context)
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...in a pot. As the locals cook, they sing songs in a foreign language. Slowly, Rachel realizes that they’re singing to the tune of Christian hymns like “Onward Christian Soldier.” (full context)
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...asks him to say a few words. Without hesitation, Nathan rises and greets the villagers. Rachel notes that Nathan always seems confident and energetic. Nathan quotes passages from the book of... (full context)
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When the food is prepared, Rachel and her siblings eat—but they find it disgusting. Although they want to spit it out,... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
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...new home. Ruth May is scared of the neighbors, claiming that they’ll eat her alive. Rachel claims that she’s sick, but eventually she, Ruth May, and Adah help with unpacking. They... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 7
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It is Easter Sunday, and Rachel is disappointed that there are no new clothes for her or her siblings. Rachel and... (full context)
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Nathan has organized a Christian pageant, Rachel thinks, designed to attract as many visitors as possible. Recently, there have been few people... (full context)
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Rachel considers the locals who’ve dressed up for the day. She doesn’t really care for the... (full context)
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Nathan’s first idea for the pageant, Rachel recalls, was that the children of the village would be baptized in the nearby river,... (full context)
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Locals show up for the supper, mostly women with their children. Rachel notices that the townspeople are wearing clothes, suggesting that word has spread that Nathan doesn’t... (full context)
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...and protected them from hungry villagers in the weeks leading up to the Prices’ arrival. Rachel notices that Orleanna, who fixed the fried chicken, has truly “won the crowd.” Nathan looks... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 8
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Ruth May reports that Rachel has become badly sunburned. Nathan thought that being in the Congo would be good for... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 10
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After the first rainstorm, Nathan’s garden thrives, growing pumpkins and beans. Meanwhile, Rachel’s 16th birthday arrives. Orleanna tries and fails to bake Rachel a cake—the oven in the... (full context)
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...be able to beg for forgiveness from God; i.e., it’s condemned to blaspheme God forever. Rachel blurts out, “We’re sorry.” Angry, Nathan tells the children to proceed with copying Bible verses. (full context)
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As Leah copies verses, she hopes that Nathan took Rachel’s comment as a confession. Secretly, though, Leah knows that it was Orleanna who accidentally shouted... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 14
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...shiny leaves. In return, Leah teaches Pascal some English words. Pascal seems more interested in Rachel’s hair and Timex watch than in learning another language. But he’s a warm friend to... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 16
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Rachel is thrilled that the Prices are hosting “company” for dinner. Anatole, their guest, is a... (full context)
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...age of 12 or so, and girls don’t go to school at all. Anatole’s parents, Rachel learns, are gone—his mother was sent to work in the Belgian mines. At dinner, Anatole... (full context)
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From the kitchen, Rachel hears Anatole tell Nathan that Nathan shouldn’t think of Tata Kuvudundu as his competition. Instead... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 18
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...a man. Nathan insists that a woman who doesn’t get married is ignoring God’s plan. Rachel, unlike Leah, insists that she’ll be getting married soon enough—she’s always tried to look beautiful.... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 20
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...Mrs. Underdown greets Orleanna and then teases her about her accent, something that always bothers Rachel. The Underdowns tell Orleanna that the Congo will have democratic elections this year, leading up... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 22
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Rachel describes how Nathan flies to Stanleyville with Eeben Axelroot to pick up more quinine pills... (full context)
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Rachel notes that Nathan is angry with the Underdown family. They send him supplies every month,... (full context)
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...Orleanna asks Nathan if Lumumba is a Communist, and Nathan answers that he’s not sure. Rachel imagines Lumumba leading the new parliament, which consists entirely of people like Tata Ndu. Rachel... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 23
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...where they’re going.) Meanwhile, Orleanna sits in bed all day, too sick to get up. Rachel tries to take care of Orleanna, but to no avail. It’s very quiet in the... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 27
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Leah notices that Rachel seems particularly pale. “Mvula”—the Congolese word for pale—has become Rachel’s nickname in the community. Leah... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 28
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...the dead. Nelson teaches Adah this and other words, including “mvula,” the word to describe Rachel. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 30
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...sick and feverish. Nathan ignores them, however. He just continues with his preaching, leaving Adah, Rachel, and Leah to take care of his wife and daughter. (full context)
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Rachel works with Adah and Leah to figure out how the family will survive from now... (full context)
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Adah notices that Rachel is acting more adult than usual—volunteering to bake bread, for example. Rachel goes through phases... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 32
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...in the night. She sees Nathan yelling, “God will know the difference,” and she sees Rachel falling to the ground. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 33
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...Ruth May sicker, so she prays to God, apologizing for her own sister’s disease. Meanwhile, Rachel continues cooking and cleaning for her sisters. Leah and Rachel argue: Leah criticizes Rachel for... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 34
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Rachel is “slaving over a hot stove” when a group of people come running by. They’re... (full context)
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Rachel notices that Nathan isn’t trying to make Fowles feel the least bit welcome in the... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 35
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...is why he’s been bringing gifts to the house. Ndu has his heart set on Rachel. As Nelson puts it, he wants to “buy” Rachel from Nathan. Nelson also explains that... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 36
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Rachel is furious about the possibility of marrying Tata Ndu. Whenever Tata Ndu visits from now... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 37
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Rachel has been spending time with Axelroot to create the impression that they’re engaged. Just as... (full context)
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Rachel tells Axelroot stories about her childhood and high school. These stories are nothing compared to... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 38
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Ruth May isn’t sure if Rachel is going to marry Tata Ndu or not. She’s heard that Rachel is considering marrying... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 39
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Rachel is now 17 years old. She has a subdued birthday—her second in the Congo. On... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 40
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Everyone in the village thinks Rachel is actually engaged to Eeben Axelroot. Meanwhile, Leah has begun studying languages with Anatole, and... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 42
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After Rachel’s birthday, Axelroot visits her and takes her for a walk to keep up the appearance... (full context)
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Axelroot and Rachel walk by a large group of women returning from the field. Axelroot flirts with them,... (full context)
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Axelroot changes the subject to politics. He tells Rachel a secret—Lumumba, the Prime Minister, is as good as dead. He will be assassinated very... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 45
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Rachel wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of frenzy. She rushes... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 48
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...carrying Adah. He explains that Orleanna and Ruth May have gone ahead with Tata Boanda. Rachel, Anatole says, is a “demon,” and Nathan is even now sermonizing about the ants. Leah... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 49
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On the day that the CIA condemned Lumumba to die, Ruth May was feverish and Rachel was turning 17. The CIA told Mobutu that he would have America’s blessing when he... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 51
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Rachel claims that Leah is the cause of the Prices’ problems. Lately, Leah has been talking... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 54
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Rachel finds the hunt disgusting. She vows never to eat meat ever again. She’s especially horrified... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 56
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In the evening, the Price sisters return to their home, and Rachel prepares to announce that she’s a vegetarian. But within a few moments, she gives in... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 60
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Rachel has just learned from Leah and Adah that Ruth May is dead. Rachel, as the... (full context)
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Rachel has spent the last year pretending that her life in the Congo isn’t real. But... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 63
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...light to save themselves effort. Adah has trouble walking for long periods of time, and Rachel is unusually quiet. On the walk, Leah considers why Nathan isn’t traveling with the rest... (full context)
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...Orleanna and Adah leave Leopoldville, returning to the U.S. Nathan is still stationed in Kilanga. Rachel has left with her “devil savior,” Axelroot. Anatole is taking care of Leah in the... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 64
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For the last year, Rachel has been living in Johannesburg, learning the Afrikaans language. Many of her new friends are... (full context)
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Rachel goes back to explain how she came to be in South Africa. She’s now living... (full context)
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Rachel remembers the day that Axelroot flew her out of the Congo in an airplane. She... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 67
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Marriage isn’t what Rachel thought it would be. She doesn’t mind life in South Africa, where there are fancy... (full context)
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Rachel decides to get her revenge on Axelroot by seducing “the Ambassador,” a powerful young man... (full context)
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One evening, Rachel gets a chance to talk to Daniel alone. She tells him about her experiences in... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 68
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...she’s lost her family, one member at a time. She can only feel hatred for Rachel, who she believes has “sold out” by marrying a “powerful mercenary.” She can’t communicate with... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 69
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...Rights Movement—she bravely marches on behalf of African Americans. Leah’s religion is suffering, Adah believes. Rachel’s religion, perhaps, is her own appearance. (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 71
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Fairy tales, Rachel begins, are nonsense—nobody ever talks about what happens after the “happily ever after.” For a... (full context)
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Rachel is now the owner and runner of the Equatorial hotel. She takes pride in remodeling... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 73
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Rachel has agreed to a reunion with her sisters, but she’s nervous about it. Rachel has... (full context)
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...to travel through Cameroon, Gabon, and other countries. Before she describes the trip in detail, Rachel notes that at the end of the month, Leah reunited with Anatole—she embraced Anatole with... (full context)
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The trip through West Africa, Rachel reports, is tough. Rachel bickers with Leah constantly. Rachel wants to stay in upscale places,... (full context)
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...they’re struck to learn that the King of Abomey had dozens of wives. This reminds Rachel of her three husbands. Leah and Adah begin to talk about Nathan. Adah claims that... (full context)
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...into a crocodile-infested river. Nathan was burned for this “crime.” Leah cries as she tells Rachel and Adah this information. (full context)
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Rachel tries to comfort Leah. She tells Leah that while Leah loved Nathan more than Nathan’s... (full context)
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...move on to talk about politics in Zaire. Leah continues talking about Mobutu’s tyranny, and Rachel shouts at Leah for telling a “sob story.” Adah and Leah keep talking about the... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 74
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Adah notes that Rachel is secretly remorseful for Nathan’s untimely death. Adah travels back to Georgia and tells Orleanna... (full context)
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...returns to Georgia from Africa, she sees Orleanna right away. She reports that Leah and Rachel are doing all right—Leah is thin, and Rachel has barely changed. Adah tells Orleanna that... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 75
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...armed Neto’s opposition, ensuring a violent, bloody war that ended in Neto’s defeat. Some, like Rachel, would call Leah brainwashed for believing this, but Leah knows she’s right. She thinks back... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 76
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Rachel is now fifty years old, and still running her hotel, the Equatorial. Sometimes, she can’t... (full context)
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In spite of her doubts about life in the U.S., Rachel decides to move back to America. She’s nervous about returning home, and thinks of the... (full context)
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Rachel takes stock of Africa—“you don’t have to like it, but you sure have to admit... (full context)