Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction — print. Harper Perennial, 2003. Originally published 1993. Print. 354 pgs. Purchased.

Three years after the events of The Bean Trees, young Turtle and her adoptive mother Taylor (formerly known as Marietta) are on their way home from visiting the Hoover Dam when Turtle announces she saw someone go over the ledge of the dam. A little girl of few words, it takes Taylor some time to pull all the necessary information from Turtle. But she believes her daughter is telling the truth and bullies the crew at the dam into sending a rescue team down to retrieve the mentally challenged man who fell.

The miraculous story offers Turtle her fifteen minutes of fame as the tale is picked up by the local news stations and then by Oprah, who invites Taylor and Turtle out to Chicago to appear on her show. Turtle’s national appearance catches the eye a Cherokee lawyer named Annawake Fourkiller, who takes one look at Turtle and immediately knows the child is Cherokee. Furthermore, Annawake  immediately knows the finalization of Turtle’s adoption (as covered in The Bean Trees) was a fraud.

The young lawyer works with Child Services for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and cannot believe the Nation would have approved the adoption of a Cherokee child by a white woman, which is required under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Concerned Turtle was essentially stolen from her family, Annawake flies to Tuscan and confronts Taylor about the adoption.

When my book club met back in November to discuss the prequel to this novel, I explained how I had a hard time suspending disbelief about Turtle’s adoption because of my familiarity with the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One of the members mentioned to me that the sequel dealt with this particular issue, although she wasn’t too happy with the way it was resolved. I won’t spoil the ending here, but I will say my inkling that convenient family history would step in to save the day turned out to largely be true.

That said, I enjoyed this book far more than I enjoyed its prequel. The actions of the characters in this novel were far more believable than in the previous book. I spoke about my uncertainty that I would immediately take in an abused child at this particular age when I shared my thoughts about The Bean Trees, but you can bet that after three years of raising said child I, too, would flee Arizona for the Pacific Northwest if I thought my child would be taken from me.

I can also believe the reaction of Taylor’s mom — the desire to fly to Las Vegas to help, the determination to go to Oklahoma and smooth things over with Nation. And while Annawake’s personal investment in Turtle’s adoption might have felt a little heavy-handed at times, I know her story is not the exception to the rule and appreciated the emotion it brought to why the Indian Child Welfare Act is such an important piece of legislation.

Unfortunately, one the best aspects of the prequel was missing from this book. Lou Ann and the family she and Taylor forge together have largely scattered to the winds. Taylor and Turtle live with Taylor’s sort-of boyfriend, Jax, on the outskirts of Tucson, and all of Lou Ann’s concern for their plight is funneled through a game of telephone with Jax.

Instead, Taylor and Turtle’s support network has shifted back to the mother she left behind in Kentucky and the boyfriend Taylor isn’t interested in marrying. (Her mother insists this is because Taylor’s grandmother raised her to feel like she didn’t need a man and her mother did the same to Taylor.) It morphs again in Las Vegas when they met a young woman determined to recreate herself as Barbie (yes, the plastic doll!) and then again when Taylor’s mother travels to Oklahoma to reconnect with a cousin named Sugar, who just so happens to be a member of the Cherokee Nation. And the network Turtle ends up with in the end feels much weaker than the one she had in The Bean Trees despite Kingsolver’s assertion that the Cherokee Nation values the tribe and family more than non-Native Americans do.

That said, this is the fourth Kingsolver book I have read and I can confidently say that she is now one of my favorite authors. I love her writing style, particular the way she manages to sweep me away with her descriptions without writing long and rambling sentences, and the unique characters she develops. I own two more of her novels, and now I’m torn between rushing ahead to read them or saving them for when I need to read something I know will be good.

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2 thoughts on “Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. I actually preferred Bean Trees over Pigs in Heaven, but I read Bean Trees when I was pretty young and so taking Turtle along with her might not have seemed as unlikely to me then as it would now. What are the Kingsolver books on your shelf?

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