I do love me some Barbara Kingsolver. I started book crushing on her back in the early 2000’s when I first read Prodigal Summer and then The Bean Trees. It’s safe to say that I’m no Kingsolver virgin.
The Overview From Amazon:
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband’s part in the Western assault on Africa, a tale indelibly darkened by her own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story, by turns, are her four daughters—the self-centered, teenaged Rachel; shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, will be marked in surprisingly different ways by their father’s intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately each must strike her own separate path to salvation. Their passionately intertwined stories become a compelling exploration of moral risk and personal responsibility.
Dancing between the dark comedy of human failings and the breathtaking possibilities of human hope, The Poisonwood Bible possesses all that has distinguished Barbara Kingsolver’s previous work, and extends this beloved writer’s vision to an entirely new level. Taking its place alongside the classic works of postcolonial literature, this ambitious novel establishes Kingsolver as one of the most thoughtful and daring of modern writers.
With over two thousand reviews on Amazon and an average rating of four stars, Kingsolver has obviously won over most readers when it comes to this book. Did I enjoy the story? Yes. Was I glad that I took the time to read a book that some reviewers said was just too long? Yes. Were there times that I wanted to strangle some of those lead characters?
I’ve never quite figured out how I feel about missionary work. I am totally down with people donating their time and resources to help improve the health of communities in need. That is all well with me. I get wishy-washy when the agenda of the mission is to force Christianity down the throats of people who chose to believe in another god. Teach them about disinfecting, fine! Proper hygiene to prevent disease, great! Tell them Jesus will save them from their heathen gods… now that’s where we don’t see eye to eye. I guess years of my own ‘religious potpourri’ (you can thank my sister for that term) has made me realize how church pushy some certain followers can be. It’s nothing personal people. You have your God. I have Buddha, some saints, a few Jewish holidays and a love of Mother Earth.
We could go on about religious differences and when it is or isn’t okay to brainwash indigenous people. Let’s talk about all the bitch slapping I would have done if I was a character in this book!
The father needed a good bitch slapping and I said so out loud on numerous occasions. I read this book during the summer when I had the mockingbirds and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them is off in the woods saying, ‘he needs a bitch slapping’ right now. I understand that he wanted to help the people in this community of the Congo, but at some point you have to say to yourself, “my children are going to be toast if I don’t get them out of here.” PS – stop trying to baptize a group of people in a river they know is full of man-eating crocodiles.
The mother needed bitch slapping for staying when she knew the risk. I don’t understand a lot about motherhood but I can tell you this … if my dog was in danger of dying of malaria or at the hands of armed men… you bet your ass I would be carrying him to the fastest mode of transportation out of there. I don’t care what my God fearing preacher man husband would say. Get the dog ( or children, whatever applies best to you) and get the hell out of there. Every man for himself!
The oldest daughter needed a good lashing, screw the bitch slapping. Every chapter from her perspective would bring on more evidence she was a self-centered idiot. My phrase for her chapters were, “are you for real?”
Throughout the book, you are made aware from the mother’s recollections that one of the children dies. They all have horrible moments that make you sure they are done for, but wait … they are still alive! By the time one of the children did die, I was almost convinced that I had been misreading the mother. Were any of these kids going to die?
They will. Patience. They will.
The final chapters seemed to be the hot topic for a lot of reviewers. Kingsolver almost does a ‘Where Are They Now’ section. I myself enjoyed this because I really wanted to know what Kingsolver thought would happen to these characters. It gave me some much needed closure from the circus that had occurred in the previous four hundred pages.
As always, I found Kingsolver’s method of writing magical and captivating.
I do recommend this book because I think it is good to read books that push your buttons and force you to live outside your comfort zone. It gave me some very interesting perspective on missionary work and the dangers they may face. It’s not my favorite Kingsolver book, but I’m not going to give up on her because of it.
Find out more about Barbara Kingsolver on her website.
Next on You Bought It, You Read It: The Dog Year by Ann Wertz Garvin.