FIVE years ago, Barbara Kingsolver's acclaimed first novel, "The Bean Trees," told the story of Taylor Greer and her adopted daughter, Turtle, a three-year-old Cherokee girl who was left in Taylor's car.
Now Kingsolver continues the tale in "Pigs in Heaven," a poignant, well-crafted story that examines the struggle between a white mother and native American culture when the Cherokee nation says Turtle's adoption may be invalid.
The novel begins when Taylor and Turtle catapult to national fame after they save a man from falling into an Arizona dam. While they tell their story on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Annawake Fourkiller, a young lawyer for the Cherokee nation, listens to the account with growing curiosity at tribal headquarters in Tahlequah, Okla.
According to the Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian children can't be adopted without tribal permission. Thus, she reasons, Turtle's adoption may not have been legal. Annawake, whose brother was given to a white family, makes it a personal mission to find out more about the situation.
She travels to Arizona, where Taylor and Turtle live, informing Taylor of the Indian law and suggesting that it would be a good idea to get tribal approval.
This unexpected news nearly shatters Taylor's world, and she decides to flee with Turtle. With hardly any money, she heads to Washington State to find a job and eke out a living. During this journey, she tries to understand why her role as a mother for Turtle is questioned:
"In the last few days Taylor has been noticing images of Indians everywhere: the Indian-chief profile on a Pontiac. The innocent-looking girl on the corn-oil margarine. The hook-nosed cartoon mascot of the Cleveland Indians, who played in Tucson. Taylor wonders what Annawake meant when she said Turtle should be in touch with her Indian side. Maybe that doesn't mean feathers, but if not, then what? Taylor is supposedly part Indian herself; Alice [her mother] used to talk about some Cherokee great-grandmot her way in the back of the closet, but everybody and his brother has one of those, even Elvis Presley did. Where do you draw the line?"
Meanwhile, Taylor's mother, Alice, who has left her husband in Kentucky, travels to the Cherokee nation to mediate for Taylor. While there, she stays with her cousin, who is married to a Cherokee.
The book then shifts back and forth between Taylor's life and the surprising events that unfold for Alice as she spends time with the close-knit tribe.
Kingsolver resolves the matter with skill, presenting both sides of the story. She weaves an unusual web of situations and sensitively tackles complicated issues of heritage and ethnic divisions in society.
The writing is strikingly devoid of cliches. Kingsolver is gifted at manipulating words and creates and molds characters with whom the reader can identify. This skill, along with an insightful plot, makes "Pigs in Heaven" a very good read.