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The Poisonwood Bible [Library Binding]

Barbara Kingsolver
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 April 2009
"The Poisonwood Bible" tells the story of an American family in the Congo during a time of tremendous political and social upheaval. The story is 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 all 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. This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against one of history's most dramatic political parables. "The Poisonwood Bible" dances between the darkly comic human failings and inspiring poetic justices of our times. In a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption, Barbara Kingsolver has written a novel of overwhelming power and passion.
--This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Library Binding: 543 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439571384
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439571385
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,250,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
156 of 163 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, beautifully written and truly superb. 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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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, passionate and poetic 5 Sep 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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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely moving, insightful, educational 24 April 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I came to this book with a fair amount of prejudice. Having just read Achebe's Things Fall Apart (an African perspective on colonialism), how could an American have anything to add. Yet Kinsgsolver, through the ingenious device of five different narrative voices (the mother and four daughters), manages to bring several completely different perspectives to the many topics coverd by the book. I found the book gripping, and as the sage evolves, intensely involving and it was a delight to find a book which I genuinely found hard to put down and then counted the hours untill I could pick it up again. This author is "mature" in the best sense of the word, bringing to her work an authority and insight which to me has elevated the work to the maybe cliched category of "twentieth century classic". I am pleased it was recommended to me and that I bought it and read it. Excellent
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich and ambitious but loses the plot 18 Jun 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is certainly an ambitious novel and in many respects the ambition is realised. The novel provides a beautiful and fascinating insight into the mechanics, idealogies and horrors of life in a remote African jungle village. It also makes very clear the damaging influence of arrogant western cultures in communities and cultures that they barely understand. In a ploy reminiscent of 'The God of Small Things' (by Arundhati Roy) the extensive use of child narrators works wonderfully here to provide an innocence and childish enthusiasm that heightens the tragedy when it inevitably does arrive. The book also introduces us to some rich and memorable female characters - most notably the cynical, flawed, but ever-vigilant Adah. In contrast, the male characters are not nearly so well-developed.
Despite its many qualities, there is a problem with this novel. The final quarter of the book appends a prolonged, frustratingly pedestrian, epilogue to the climax of the first three-quarters. The bulk of the novel chronicles one intense year, but then Kingsolver decides to take us on through the next thirty years of the women's lives without, in my mind, any real justification. The historical and political points made so subtley and powerfully in the first part of the book become laboured and too often repeated in the second part. Sadly also, the characters do not seem to develop any more depth or any more insight in this 'epilogue' - in fact they become disappointingly one-dimensional.
Overall, I do recommend this book for its richness and its ambition but I wish the author had considered cutting it short. It made me wonder whether the unnecessary extension was due to the author wanting to make full use of her detailed research or whether the Publisher had suggested it with one eye on selling the rights for a TV mini-series.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going
A really interesting idea, but a dreary book. Took far too long to get into the story and by the time I did, I had lost interest in the characters.
Published 3 days ago by M. N. Coleman
5.0 out of 5 stars The poinsonwood Bible
A very interesting book about south Africa. The different stories of the children and the mad, possessed father. A great read.
Published 6 days ago by Ms Linda Louisa Dell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
I loved this book. I read it after a friend recommended it and I couldn't put it down. Something reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath. Destined to become a classic.
Published 14 days ago by A. H. Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This was my second Barbara Kingsolver novel and I really recommend it. It made me think about many things many times. She is an excellent author. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Mrs Furley
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent story of humanity and power
This book captivated me from its emotional honesty in describing the lives of a family of American missionaries adapting to life in the Congo to its broader message about power and... Read more
Published 25 days ago by teresa
4.0 out of 5 stars The Poisonwood Bible
I recommend the author's Prodigal Summer for a contrast, set in modern America.

This story occurs in 1950s Belgian Congo as a missionary family from America arrive full... Read more
Published 25 days ago by Clare O'Beara
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure about this book
Really tried hard to get into this book after reading so many great reviews. Love the descriptions and detail but it lost me half-way through and I gave up. Read more
Published 1 month ago by loveagoodbook13
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but a hard slog
This book is beautifully written with clever multiple narrative but it's heartbreaking and frustrating in equal measure. Very easy to put down!
Published 1 month ago by Alex Addyman
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel, though not quite perfect
This was a title that had been on my radar for several years, having seen a friend reading it whilst we were at university. Read more
Published 1 month ago by S. Meadows
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read, thought-provoking and dealing with complex themes in an accessible way.
Published 1 month ago by carolh
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