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Pigs in Heaven

Barbara Kingsolver

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Plot Overview

Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955 in the part of eastern Kentucky positioned between the extravagant horse farms and impoverished coalfields. Although many of her books are filled with rich imagery of her home state, Kingsolver never imagined she would stay in the region, to grow up either a farmer or a farmer's wife. She left Kentucky to attend to attend De Pauw University in Indiana. Kingsolver majored in biology in college, but took one creative writing course.

Kingsolver became active in anti-Vietnam protests during her college years, marking just the beginning of her commitment as a political and social activist. A few years after her graduation, she went to the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she earned a Masters of Science degree in the fields of biology and ecology. Kingsolver supported herself working at a variety of jobs, until she finished grad school, at which time she got a job as a science writer for the University of Arizona. This job led her into journalistic writing, and her numerous feature stories have appeared in many nationally acclaimed publications. According to Kingsolver, journalism and scientific writing helped her develop good writing discipline and paved the way for her career in fiction writing.

Unlike many writers, Kingsolver does not cower from combining artistic aesthetic with sociopolitical activism. The underlying purpose in her writing is her adamant commitment to social and environmental causes. Kingsolver's commitment to literature with a social conscience led her to found the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which was awarded for the first time this year. She continues to work as an environmental and human rights activist. Pigs in Heaven is the sequel to Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, and addresses many of the same kinds of sociopolitical themes, including Native American life and family structure. Pigs in Heaven came into being as Kingsolver witnessed numerous real-life Native American adoption stories.

According to Kingsolver, every book she writes starts by asking a question. The question in this case had to do with the tension between community and individualism, and how these two separate ways of living can be integrated. Kingsolver was particularly interested in the way the American media represented cases such as Turtle's, in which a tribe wished to have a child back after she had been adopted by non-native parents. The news media always focused on the bond between mother and child, asking what was best for the child. The news stories could never conceive of the question, "what is best for the community?" Pigs in Heaven attempts to enter into the dialogue. It is worth noting that the title itself comes from a Cherokee creation story. Kingsolver seems to be asking her non-native readers to enter into a story that is beyond their culture's discursive bounds.

Although Pigs in Heaven stands on its own as a complete work, it is helpful to view it in the context of its precursor. The Bean Trees begins with Taylor's exodus from Kentucky, two days into which a Cherokee woman at a bar in Oklahoma gives her Turtle. The story goes on to tell of Taylor's first few months with Turtle, during which both befriend two Guatemalan refugees. Although Alice is not as prominent in the first book, she provides an interesting transitional element. In The Bean Trees, Taylor continually mentions her mother's "head rights"; Alice had always told Taylor that if they ever found themselves in dire straits, they had enough Cherokee blood in them to enroll on the Nation. In The Bean Trees, they talked of claiming their head rights in a half-joking way. In Pigs in Heaven the main conflict for these two women involves figuring out what their role with the Cherokee Nation will be.

Although Pigs in Heaven picks up seamlessly from where The Bean Trees left off, Kingsolver chooses to tell the second book with an omniscient point-of-view, straying from the first-person perspective in The Bean Trees. Taylor's voice was enough to carry the first novel, but Pigs in Heaven demands that at least two different perspectives be represented. The point-of-view suggests the way in which Kingsolver diligently refuses to privilege one value system over the other and sought to create a work that would challenge any reader to conceptualize both sides equally. Her sensitivity for the differences that lie at the base of our social and political assumptions only enhances the book's poetic accomplishment.

Since her first novel, Kingsolver's work has continually been met with success. Her other novels include Animal Dreams (1990), The Poisonwood Bible (1998) which was an Oprah Book Club selection and earned international praise, and her most recent, Prodigal Summer (2000). She has also published books of non-fiction and poetry.

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