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The Bean Trees : A Novel
by Barbara Kingsolver

Paperback - 323 pages (October 1998)
Harper Mass Market Paperbacks; ISBN: 0061097314

"As clear as air. It is the southern novel taken west, its colors as translucent and polished as one of those slices of rose agate from a desert shop."

"The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles." -Taylor Greer in The Bean Trees.

Marietta Greer spent her childhood in rural Kentucky determined to do two things: avoid getting pregnant and escape rural Kentucky. At the start of the novel, she has headed west in a beat-up '55 Volkswagon, changing her name to Taylor when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Illinois. By the time two tires give way in Tucson she has with her a stunned, silent three-year-old Cherokee girl who was, literally, dropped into her arms one night. She has named the child Turtle, for her strong, snapping-turtle-like grip. In Tucson Taylor finds friendship and support in Lou Ann Ruiz, a fellow Kentuckian and single mother, with whom she and Turtle share a house. Her newfound community also includes Mattie, who runs a safe house for political refugees in the upstairs rooms above her auto repair shop. The novel's theme of fear, flight, homelessness, and finding sanctuary within a community are present in Taylor's struggle to find a place where she belongs, and the more urgent plight of two Central American refugees, Estevan and Esperanza. These fellow travelers help one another create new lives and redefine the meanings of home and family.

articles and reviews
April 10, 1988

She Hung the Moon and Plugged in All the Stars
By JACK BULTER
Barbara Kingsolver can write. On any page of this accomplished first novel, you can find a striking image or fine dialogue or a telling bit of drama. This, for example, from page 59: "Her old hand pawed the air for a few seconds before Ivy silently caught it and corralled it in the heavy black sleeve." Even when the line is quoted out of context, we can see in it the clumsy animal intransigence of a stubborn old woman in those verbs, and the darkness of fate and motive in that heavy black sleeve. When you know that the old woman is the paternal grandmother, visiting from Kentucky, of one Lou Ann Ruiz, and that this grandmother has spent her entire stay in Arizona finding fault with Tucson for being so dry, with Lou Ann for moving so far away and marrying a "heathern" Mexican and with the heathern for working on Sundays, and that the old woman is insisting on wearing her coat, regardless of the 80-degree weather, because it's January, the tiny moment gains tremendous resonance. [read more]
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