Young Adults Books

PIGS IN HEAVEN by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., N.Y., NY 10022-5299, (800) 242-7737, (800) 822-4090 FAX. 343 pp., $22.00 cloth. 0-06-016801-3

In this perceptive and entertaining sequel to The Bean Trees (1988), Kingsolver catches up with Taylor Greer three years later, as she and Turtle, the now six-year-old Cherokee child abandoned in Greer's car in the previous book, visit Hoover Dam. Turtle is the only one to see a man fall into a spillway pipe, and she insists that he be rescued, even though the dam has closed and virtually everyone has left.

The media get wind of the rescue and play it up. Taylor and Turtle appear on "Oprah" in a segment titled "Children Who Have Saved Lives." When the show airs, however, Annawake Fourkiller, a young Cherokee lawyer in Heaven, Oklahoma, recognizes that Turtle is Cherokee and hears Taylor say that she is adopted. Fourkiller wonders if the adoption was within the edicts of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which stipulates that adoptions cannot take place without permission of the tribe.

When she investigates the adoption and visits Taylor in Arizona, she finds cause to begin proceedings to invalidate the adoption and bring Turtle back within the tribe. After the visit,Taylor flees to Seattle with the child, leaving her boyfriend, Jax behind to serve as a go-between.

Kingsolver uses this conflict to weave several threads through her story. In "The Bean Trees," Taylor gave the child the name "Turtle" because of the way she held onto her new mother, a tight grip that could not be broken. The strong emotional and physical ties between the two are skillfully illustrated in both books. Just as strong, though, are the legal and spiritual ties that link Turtle to her tribe, and the reader is torn between both compelling arguments as to which situation is in her "best interest."

Also compelling is the myth that guides Fourkiller and is also the source of the book's title. To the Cherokee, the stars that form the Pleiades are the Six Pigs in Heaven. Long ago, there were six lazy, ungrateful boys who whined that their mothers were treating them like pigs. The boys complain to the spirits, and the spirits side with the mothers, turning the boys into pigs. In a panic, the pigs run around so fast that they rise into heaven. The moral of the tale is recited by Fourkiller: "Do right by your people."

While I won't give away the ending, I will say that Kingsolver ties things together with several contrivances that are a bit too tidy for me, including Taylor's mother, inventive bloodlines, and an explosive event that leads to a day-saving marriage. But it's all in good fun, despite the serious issues that must be resolved. Part of the fun of reading "Pigs In Heaven" for me is that I think I know the attorney that Kingsolver has patterned Fourkiller after. The clues from the book are very short hair and an affiliation with the American Indian Lawyer Training Program.

My reaction to "Pigs In Heaven" can summed up by the last line of the book: "It's all over now but the shouting." I'm shouting for more from this talented, sensitive, and enjoyable writer, who has done right by her readers.

Other books by Kingsolver are: Fiction - "Homeland and Other Stories" (1989), and "Animal Dreams" (1991), Poetry - "Another America" (1992), Nonfiction - "Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983" (1989). Reviewed by: Steve Brock

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Monday, March 11, 1996 - 11:37:17 AM