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The Poisonwood Bible Paperback – 11 Apr 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (11 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571298842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571298846
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (318 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

As any reader of The Mosquito Coast knows, men who drag their families to far-off climes in pursuit of an Idea seldom come to any good, while those familiar with At Play in the Fields of the Lord or Kalimantaan understand that the minute a missionary sets foot on the fictional stage, all hell is about to break loose. So when Barbara Kingsolver sends missionary Nathan Price along with his wife and four daughters off to Africa in The Poisonwood Bible, you can be sure that salvation is the one thing they're not likely to find. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle," says Leah, one of Nathan's four daughters. But of course it isn't long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable and they've arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathan's fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?

In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan's intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and on the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor's animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member's fortunes across a span of more than 30 years.

The Poisonwood Bible is arguably Barbara Kingsolver's most ambitious work, and it reveals both her great strengths and her weaknesses. As Nathan Price's wife and four daughters tell their story in alternating chapters, Kingsolver does a good job of differentiating the voices. But at times they can grate--teenaged Rachel's tendency towards precious malapropisms is particularly annoying (students practice their "French congregations"; Nathan's refusal to take his family home is a "tapestry of justice"). More problematic is Kingsolver's tendency to wear her politics on her sleeve; this is particularly evident in the second half of the novel, in which she uses her characters as mouthpieces to explicate the complicated and tragic history of the Belgian Congo.

Despite these weaknesses, Kingsolver's fully realised, three-dimensional characters make The Poisonwood Bible compelling, especially in the first half when Nathan Price is still at the centre of the action. And in her treatment of Africa and the Africans she is at her best, exhibiting the acute perception, moral engagement and lyrical prose that has made her previous novels so successful. --Alix Wilber, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'There are few ambitious, successful and beautiful novels. Lucky for us, we have one now, in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. This awed reviewer hardly knows where to begin.' --Jane Smiley

'The Poisonwood Bible is a book club classic ... The novel begins as a family saga but evolves into a polemic about how African lives are ruined by Western greed and fear ... There is humour, history, love and loss. The characterisation is exquisite.' --The Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 181 people found the following review helpful By sixfootred on 11 April 2002
Format: Paperback
Until I read this book, I had thought I would never find a book I loved as much as Memoirs of a Geisha. I was wrong.
I finished The Poisonwood Bible about two weeks ago and am still having what can only be described as withdrawal symptoms now. I wanted to re-read this book the moment I finished it. Throughout the book, as the remaining pages dwindled, I began to dread the end, and made a conscious effort to slow down and savour the words on every page. It was a truly absorbing and beautiful journey through an incredibly well written and researched book - a completely plausible story of a family's experiences in the Belgian Congo in a highly political era.
The wife and 4 daughters of a devout evangelist follow Nathan Price in his mission to the Congo to educate the 'Tribes of Ham' in the teachings of Jesus, unaware of what they are to learn from a starkly different way of life than that lived in Georgia, USA. Wholly unprepared for the consequences of a white family's presence in a country which is being politically abused by the American Government, they all have lessons to learn quickly. Add this to the unrelenting and almost inhospitable environment of the country itself and the reader senses from early on that there is a recipe for disaster brewing. Indeed, the reader pre-empts and fears that moment's ultimate arrival, having developed an extraordinary empathy for the characters along the way.
The author writes beautifully, holding the reader's interest by providing a rich tapestry of historical and political education and an examination of family life in difficult times. The book combines humour and sadness with diplomacy and skill leaving nothing to dislike or criticise. The author herself states that she waited forty years for the knowledge and wisdom to write the book. Trust me, it was worth the wait. Read this and weep.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Calypso on 16 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the finest contemporary book I have read. The quality of the writing is outstanding, beautiful imagery with superbly crafted characters set against the fascinating backdrop of the Belgian Congo.

The Price family are brought to the Congo by their father, the evangelist Nathan Price, whose obsessional mission to bring the Christian message to the Congo has catastrophic results for the family. The talent of Barbara Kingsolver is in making us look at the comparative values of the `educated and enlightened' West and those of the `uneducated and unenlightened' Congolese through the vehicle of this dysfunctional family with breathtaking results.

The trials of the family and of the local community, narrated from the points of view of the mother and daughters are spell-binding. The well researched political and social backdrop is a real treat.

I have some sympathy with the view that the final quarter of the book starts to reveal the author's own political views rather than those of the characters and it could be argued that this detracts from what would otherwise be a masterpiece. However, this is a minor quibble. This is a truly outstanding novel.
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87 of 92 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Sept. 2003
Format: Paperback
The Poisonwood Bible is a wonderful book which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone and everyone. I picked it up at a jumble sale and took it on holiday with me, hoping to be entertained for a couple of days, but instead found myself completely entwined with the story. Kingsolver’s ambitious narrative follows a Baptist minister, his wife and four daughters on their mission to the Congo in the late 1950s, as the region takes its first steps towards independence. The life of each family member is utterly changed by the experiences in the Congo, and even after the sudden and shocking ending of the mission the Congo remains the heart of darkness and of light in each life.
Orleanna Price, the mother, narrates the first chapter in each section, and each following chapter is narrated by a different daughter. This device allows the reader to become quickly and intimately acquainted with the family, but the father, Nathan, remains a distant and ominous figure, reported differently by each narrative. Rachel, the eldest, longs to return to her friends and home, Leah and Adah, the unidentical twins, become fascinated and at home in the Congo, and Ruth May, the baby, tries to understand what she sees around her, accepting her surroundings without surprise. Adah in particular offers fascinating, comic and razor-sharp portraits of those around her. Kingsolver creates an instantly recognizable voice for each speaker. The book encompasses with powerful themes such as freedom, redemption, free will, love vs. survival and many more. The girls have all been brought up on Nathan’s fire and brimstone religion, which leaves no room for compromise or the lessons that are to be learnt from other cultures.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ray Ellis on 22 Jun. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Based on most of the reviews that I read, I seriously expected to hate this book. Some people seemed to be giving it 1 star, because of its politics and the fact that it slagged off missionaries. Others seemed to be giving it 5 stars, because of its politics and the fact that it slagged off missionaries. And Nathan Price seemed from their descriptions to be little more than a two-dimensional ogre.

In fact I didn't find any of those things to be true. There is a strong political element its true, but only comes explicitly to the fore in the later writings of the character of Leah Price Ngemba - but then, she is a political activist, so that's kind of understandable.

The 'message' seems to be that forcing western solutions onto Africa is wrong and that if westerners want to be a part of Africa they should immerse themselves in the culture. That is the political message: Leah and Anatole seek to work inside the system. It is the cultural message: e.g. the gardening solitions that the Price family bring with them don't work, because they don't understand the environment. And it is the religious message: Missionaries per se are not bad, just those who force a western style Christianity into an African culture. By comparison, Brother Fowles is a very positive character. Not because he is a liberal who has given up his beliefs as some have suggested, because his beliefs still seem very strong. But he has contextualised them to the African culture.

As for the 'ogre' Nathan Price: I actually found myself feeling sorry for him. He is certainly a flawed character and I would not condone many (if any) of his actions. But there are reasons why he behaves as he does and ultimately, he is brought down by his arrogance. He is the Willy Loman of the missionary world.
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