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PGI Picks #11: Novels About Complex Economic, Ecological, and Social Issues

A series highlighting our team’s book, film, and podcast recommendations in the post growth and sustainability realms.

By Amelia Bryne and Jen Hinton

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbera Kingsolver

I am a big fan of systems thinking and thus very much appreciate it when an author can give us a holistic view of a story from multiple perspectives, on different levels and with the complexity that we face in our day-to-day lives. Kingsolver gives us just this in The Poisonwood Bible.

The story is set in the early 1960s and depicts the challenges that an American missionary, his wife and four daughters face when they move to a village in the Congo in an attempt to save the “savage” locals from eternal damnation by converting them to Christianity. Each of them reacts differently, learning disparate lessons from the huge change in their lives. But as I alluded to before, the way this story is told is just as important as the plot itself. Kingsolver does an enthralling job of telling the story by weaving together the first-person narratives of all of the female characters.

This book does a fantastic job of highlighting, on the larger level, the failure and misdirection of the West’s quest to dominate and change the people of the global South; the impact that Protestant Christianity has had on Western civilization’s idea of progress; as well as the value of the wisdom of indigenous cultures. Kingsolver skillfully demonstrates the value of this wisdom without romanticizing the indigenous culture of the village she depicts, moving beyond simplistic dualities.

Another way in which Kingsolver overcomes dualities is by telling the story from multiple perspectives. The narrators range in age from 5 years old to 40-something. Switching between these different perspectives brings into focus just how subjective storytelling and, thus, the recording and retelling of history really are.

I think post growth readers will thoroughly enjoy the way this book deals with the themes of development, colonialism, racism, gender issues, materialism and ecology. — Jen

I picked up this book one rainy summer day with the intention of reading a few pages. Soon I was enthralled. Technically non-fiction Prechtel’s delicate words and storytelling draw the reader in. The second in a series of memoirs Long Life, Honey in the Heart continues the story of the author’s many years living as part of the Tzutujil Maya of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. Prechtel, of Native American and European ancestry, grew up on reservation in New Mexico, but later found his home in the village he describes where he married, became initiated as a shaman, and deeply connected with the community.

Though the story is not without difficultly and heartbreak, Prechtel describes with loving and careful detail the joy of living in a beautiful way, connected strongly with other people and a particular place on earth. From the perspective of outside society this would be seen as a very “poor” place, yet the book subtly asks the reader to question: what is true wealth?

Martin Prechtel’s work is powerful in two ways in relation to a post growth perspective. First, his stories raise deep questions about what the mainstream, growth-oriented culture may be lacking. In Long Life, Honey in the Heart he describes the power and purpose of initiation among the Tzutujil Maya. Rather than seeming far away, his words awaken a longing that all youth would have the opportunity to participate in such a ceremony and in community. In other words, instead of working so hard to keep “things as they are” at all costs, Prechtel’s words ask us to consider what we might be missing out on — and that what we’re missing perhaps doesn’t have much to do with money or material wealth.

Second, Long Life, Honey in the Heart gives one view of what a post growth future could look like. Of course, where each reader lives may be quite different from the community and landscape described in the book. Yet, the book provides inspiration to begin to imagine how deep connections might be created and re-created in many places. Prechtel’s stories awaken questions like: What are the beautiful spots where you live? What stories do they have? How might initiation be revived or strengthened in your community in a way that makes sense for your culture? What would your food be if it came from the land close to where you live, and how would you grow and prepare it beautifully?

I’d highly recommend checking out both this book and the author’s other work. — Amelia

Additional suggestions for fiction or narrative non-fiction with post growth themes included the zombie novel Warm Bodies by Issac Marion — the moral is that love will triumph over the dystopian future, James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand, Coyote Medicine by Lewis Mehl Madrona, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, and the Ringing Cedar series associated with the permaculture movement in Russia. Do you have other recommendations? Let us know in the comments!

Originally published in May 2013. To Find out more about the Post Growth Institute, visit our website.




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Post Growth Institute

Post Growth Institute

Writing by team-members, guest contributors, and Fellows of the Post Growth Institute (PGI).

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