Excerpt from Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Small Wonder

By Barbara Kingsolver

Small Wonder
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2002,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2003,
    288 pages.

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If I got to make just one law, it would be that the men who make the decisions to drop bombs would first, every time, have to spend one whole day taking care of a baby. We were not made to do this killing thing, I swear. Back up. It's a big mistake.

The public is invited to think what it pleases, but to call me naïve would be flat-out wrong. I have lived in a lot of different countries. So many, in fact, that now on some occasions when I'm asked here to vote yes or no, I want to color outside the lines. I turn over the referendum to look on the back for option 3: "RESOLVED to live with a little less so we can all share in the safety of having enough." In many countries, they give you that option. Our leaders tell us that these problems of ours are insoluble except by force, and that we must cede certain casualties to poverty and violence, and yet nearly every problem has already been solved by someone, somewhere: I've witnessed first-hand the blessedly kind health-care system of Spain, and I'd like to see ours follow its example. And the examples of Curitiba, Brazil, which recycles 70 percent of its trash, and Freiburg, Germany, which has brought back its streetcars and made automobiles unnecessary. Paris, Tokyo, and a hundred other municipalities have efficient public transportation systems that I'd like in my own city, thank you. I'd like an end to corporate welfare and multimillion-dollar CEO salaries so we could put that money into ending homelessness, as many other nations have done before us. I'd like us to consume energy, on average, at the modest level Europeans do, and then go them one better. I'd like a government that creatively subsidizes renewable energy and conservation, as Canada has done in some of its public school buildings, earning more than 100 percent return on the investment—which is returned again to the schools as equipment and teacher salaries. I would like us to ratify the Kyoto Protocol today and reduce our fossil-fuel emissions with the help of legislation that will ease us into safer, less wasteful, sensibly reorganized lives. I'd like to stake my pride on a nation that consistently inspires rather than bullies, that brings unconditional generosity to the table, and that dispenses justice over the inevitable bad deal with diplomacy and honor rather than with more bad deals. If this were the humane face we showed the world and the model we brought to working with it, every time, I believe our children might eventually be able to manage with a military budget the size of Iceland's.

There's a great big world out there, some of it clever and some of it frightfully cruel: I recently watched a film about women in Iran that made me go and kiss my sleeping daughters afterward, then kiss the ground on which we were lucky enough to be born. But there's no sense in getting cocky. England freed its slaves a century before we did, and right now many nations of the world consider U.S. policy to be awkwardly behind the times on many matters, from global conservation and science education to capital punishment. I find it helpful to remember this when I sometimes find myself outside the prevailing opinion here: My heart has independently found its way to a position that is, in a larger sense, in.

But whether I stand alone or with many, I'm still bound by that heart of mine to stand where we vote "none of the above" when presented with the equally odious choices of kill or be killed. I'm insulted by the suggestion that no other option exists, when nations all around us take very different strategies, many of them less belligerent than our own, with admirable success. I'm insulted further by the shallowness of the public debate, especially in wartime, founded as it seems to be on news reports devoid of any historical context. Our whole campaign against the Taliban, Afghan women's oppression, and Osama bin Laden was under-taken without nearly enough public mention of our government's previous involvement with this wretched triumvirate, in service of a profitable would-be pipeline from the gas fields of Turkmenistan. If the CIA and some U.S. corporate heads are romancing the same ilk elsewhere, right now, for similar reasons, then this high-minded talk of "Enduring Freedom" is wearing thin on my patience. The men in charge of our wars are well aware of these complex histories, but they speak to us in terms of simplistic threats without shades of cause or consequence, exactly as if we were all children.

Excerpted from "God's Wives Measuring Spoons" in Small Wonder. Copyright © 2002 by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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