The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees.

“I took out the stamps I had brought from home wrapped in waxed paper, and licked one and stuck it on my souvenir postcard from the Cherokee Nation.  I added a line at the bottom:

“I found my head rights, Mama.  They’re coming with me.”

Taylor Greer has been handed a small child by an anonymous Native American woman at a truck stop restaurant, somewhere in Oklahoma.  The child turns out to be a little Cherokee girl who comes to be called Turtle for her habit of clinging to whatever she grabs.  Before Turtle entered her life, Taylor’s plan was to avoid getting pregnant and to get as far away from her Kentucky hill town birthplace as possible.  It’s during her drive across country that she inherits the child; their trials and travels are chronicled in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees.  The pair finds itself in Tucson when the tires on Taylor’s car finally part company with their treads and the rocker arm assembly goes for good; travelers, tires, and rocker arm are rescued by Mattie, owner of the Jesus is Lord Used Tires emporium.

“Mattie’s place was always hopping.  She was right about people always passing through, and not just customers, either.  There was another whole set of people who spoke Spanish and lived with her upstairs for various lengths of time.  I asked her about them once, and she asked me something like had I ever heard of a sanctuary.

I remembered my gas-station travel brochures.  “Sure,” I said. It’s a place they set aside for birds, where nobody’s allowed to shoot them.”

“That’s right.  They’ve got them for people too.”  This was all she was inclined to say about the subject.”

The used tire store, it turns out, serves as a way station on a present-day underground railway, offering temporary asylum to Central Americans who’ve crossed the border fleeing torture and oppression in their own countries.  It is with the help of a Guatemalan couple who comes to the tire store refuge that Taylor is able to adopt Turtle formally; a bit of subterfuge is needed, but on the whole, things turn out satisfactorily.  The Bean Trees is a rare novel of friendship and love, of abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in unexpected places.  Be sure to read all about it!

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.