At fifty, Rachel surveys her life and feels utterly satisfied. She regrets, somewhat, living apart from the American culture with which she still so strongly identifies, but she is proud of carving out her own domain amid the jungle. She attributes her success at maintaining mental stability in Africa to a simple procedure: ignoring everything she does not want to see.
All of Leah's sons except for Nathaniel are now grown and on their own, and she and Anatole return to the intimacy of their youth, waxing ideological as they lie in bed at night, wondering what life might have been like with no colonialism. They have been living in Angola for ten years on an agricultural station. Leah teaches classes in nutrition, sanitation, and soybeans. She still suffers under the burden of white guilt, calling herself the "unmissionary asking to be converted." Yet she claims that she has found "the simple human relief of knowing you've done wrong and living through it."
Unable to believe in the possibility of a world in which saving a life is uncomplicatedly and unambiguously a good thing, Adah leaves the profession of medicine and devotes herself fully to scientific research. She admits that she does not view it as her work to vanquish the viruses that she studies; rather, she admires these creatures, believing that they have as much right to the earth as human beings.
We now we hear Ruth May's voice, matured and made wise by death. She returns us to the scene that Orleanna described in the opening chapter. The okapi that Orleanna came across, Ruth May tells us, was scared away and lived another year because of that. Every life, she concludes, is different because we passed this way and touched history. Everyone is complicit in everything. She then paints another scene: Orleanna leading her adult girls through a market. They are supposedly there to find Ruth May's grave, but really they are saying goodbye to their mother. They cannot even reach Ruth May's grave because the Congo is swept by war, and there is no way to get over the border from Angola. After thirty- five years Mobutu has run away in the night, his body ridden with cancer
The mother and daughters are stopped short by a woman whose style of dress and benevolence seems familiar to them. She is selling tiny animals carved from wood. She speaks Kikongo, the language spoken in Kilanga, though this city is far from that region. Orleanna buys some elephants for her grandchildren, and woman gives her an okapi as a gift. It turns out that the women is from Bulungu, yet when they ask for news of Kilanga, she claims that no such place has ever existed. The road stops at Bulungu.
The book ends as Ruth May forgives her mother, and asks that Orleanna forgive herself.
Corrections: There are several mistakes in this article, from plot-related to grammatical. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are: a) Adah's right side, not her left, is crippled, b) the author used "effect" as a verb, and c) it's wringing, not ringing, near the end. Someone should probably look over this sometime. Also, the article presents Nathan Price as a completely flat character; however, he has his moments of uncertainty (for example, when he reshapes his garden into mounds, or when he reacts to the news of the little girl... Read more→
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I feel that Nathan is not shown as a real protagonist. He isn't even a main character, as the book isn't about his actions, but how the females in his family respond to his actions. He would be more considered an antagonist, if he were more central.