152 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, beautifully written and truly superb.
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...
Published on 11 April 2002 by sixfootred
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If only it could have lasted...
The first three quarters of the book are excellent, readable if a little heavy-handed politically.
The last quarter falls to pieces narratively - a pity since for all the book's ill-hidden convictions it carries us with it until Kingsolver loses all judgement and cannot prevent herself spelling out what she has already quite adequately managed to intimate.
Published on 26 Jun 2003
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152 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, beautifully written and truly superb.,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (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.
76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, passionate and poetic,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (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. In the Congo, however, each member of the family learns that there are no simple choices; as Adah says: ‘Every betrayal contains a perfect moment, a coin stamped heads or tails with salvation on the other side…a two-faced goddess looking forward and back.’
The Poisonwood Bible is a wonderful achievement, weaving together the strands of religion, feminism, politics, morality and environmentalism in Kingsolver’s lyrical and layered prose, with a passionate and fulfilling love thrown in for good measure! I knew only the basics of America’s role in the Congo, and the book inspired me to read more about it, and it certainly opened my eyes to the less-than-spotless dealings that went on. It’s also wonderfully evocative of the surrounding environment, and the jungle is really a character in its own right. The death of one of the family comes as a shock and a tragedy, and yet the other members realize that every other family in the village has lost at least one person—why should their grief be any more important? This is the emotional climax of the book, and the numbness and disbelief that the characters feel is perfectly created and almost tangible.
The later sections of the book, however, are less successful than the parts set during Nathan’s mission. These later sections dip in and out of the characters’ lives in the ‘60s, ‘70s and the late ‘80s, and it is a little tricky to adjust as Nathan and Orleanna’s young daughters grow up to become mothers, hotel owners and scientists. Rachel, in particular, is somewhat sketchily drawn, still using the same malapropisms as when she was 16 (these ARE deliberate, and not typos, as one reviewer here suggested!) Anatole, too, is something of a cliché. It’s as if by virtue of being Congolese he must be a paragon, and it’s disappointing to see Kingsolver not create a more realistic character—is she afraid to create a flawed African? Also, the narrative seems more concerned with cramming in the true political events of these years than advancing the characters any further. By this stage, however, most readers will be so completely caught up in the novel and so connected to the characters that they will accept these flaws. And these are only minor flaws when set against the grand scale of the novel. It is beautiful, heart-breaking, wise, poetic, a damning indictment of colonialism, and a must-read for everybody.
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely moving, insightful, educational,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (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
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich and ambitious but loses the plot,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely written, many layered story telling,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (Oprah's Book Club) (Paperback)Having just returned from Africa, I was hungry for more about the mysterious and facinating continent. Kingsolver is my all-time favorite writer, so I was delighted to read the book and savored its length and detail. Now, I need something else to read but fear that nothing will satisfy me as this book has. I feel a great deal like I did when I finished The Handmaid's Tale. Thought provoking, troubling and delicious book, makes me want to talk about it to everyone. I love the evolution of the characters and the history that I learned from reading. I am still wondering what to read now. I hope to use this book in my high school literature classes.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must be taught in every school in the West!,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (Paperback)I wasn't so sure about this book when I picked it up one night in bed. I never heard of it or of the author, but I like cats in a bag, and this one certainly did not disappoint. The women of the Price family (and there are many of them) are brought to Africa just before the end of the colonial era in the Congo, by Father Price, determined to spread the word of Christ to the congregation of a small village. A whole new world is revealed to the women there which they have never thought existed. But things are not good and all throughout the book are only getting worse. The father figure is presented as a stubborn, ruthless man, and probably as someone who doesn't like women very much. But he is not given a voice in the book. The story is told from the point of view of the mother and her four daughters, and each chapter is dedicated to one of them. I think the book presents very masterfully the different views about colonialism, race, religion and even family relationships. But saying that, it does make a firm stand. The author's politics are apparent from the start, and through Leah she shows the cruelty and devastation the Belgians (and Americans) brought to the Congo. The only truly pro-American, pro-capitalist and white supremacist character in the book, the oldest daughter, is presented as a high school airhead, who doesn't really change much throughout the book, and overall gives the all-American teenager a bad name. Overcoming adversity is a big theme in the book, and it applies both to the Price family women and to the African continent as a whole. It presents the injustice and cruelty the African people still suffer today at the hands of the white men (Men being the key word here!), and the ridiculous way the Church insists on "spreading the word to the heathens" in a beautiful and convincing and sometimes humorous way. But enough said. I think this book is a must read for everyone in the Western world, we can all learn a lot from it. I'll be sure to read it again many many more times and get as many of my friends to do the same.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed African diamond,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (Paperback)A flawed, but beautifully written novel about culture clash set in the Congo c. 1960.
The Poisonwood Bible presents a missionary “worst case scenario”. A stubborn, inadequately prepared (and, it would seem, inadequately supported) missionary hiding war time guilt launches himself and his family into a mission in the Congo in an attempt to find “redemption”. The country is about to erupt into political instability formented by his sending nation. Whilst the best cases perhaps makes for less dramatic reading, as man and fellow Christian I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Nathaniel Price. Thrown into all this, and then denied a voice. True, Kingsolver is more interested in his four daughters, and this is their story, but white, male, evangelical does make for a soft target in these politically correct times.
The true end of the novel occurs about 400 pages in. The last 200 pages, though well written, represent a ragged, overly long ending, reminiscent of Captain Corelli. The author attempts to tie up the lose ends over 30 years after 400 pages concerned with one intense year.
The author’s attitude to Christianity remains one king definitely unsolved. While I don’t think that a Southern Baptist missionary would present baptism as salvation (as it is implied that Nathaniel Price does in the novel), the Brother Fowles’ cameo shows a certain sympathy. A British writer would have likely to have shown much more cynicism and misunderstanding. The author’s target is more male pride and ego than the Christian faith.
Despite its flaws, the Poisonwood Bible richly deserves a five star rating and “classic” epiphets. I found the main characters to be believable (ok, you might not meet many people like them in, say, Glasgow). The technique of the daughters telling the story, which could so easily have flopped, works very well. I haven’t enjoyed a contemporary novel so much since Captain Corelli’s Mandoli and I thoroughly recommend it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tremendously moving book - flawed but still wonderful,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (Paperback)Well, I thought this book was wonderful - I cried at the end which is highly unusual for me.
The first half of the book is a real page turner and has magical descriptions about the Congo - as well as a vivid portayal of the Americans' total misunderstanding of the Congolese people. They regard the villagers as utterly primative, but gradually come to realise that it is they, themselves, who have the most to learn.
I agree with other readers who say that the second half of the book doesn't sit easily with the first. However, it does manage to provide some kind of balance to the first in that it shows the total folly of they way in which West African countries have been managed since independence - whilst not exonerating the American money which created so much of the corruption and violence.
Overall this manages to combine being a great read with really telling us something - it didn't leave me with a great hope for the future of West Africa, but I really enjoyed it.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excquisite details and story,
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) (Hardcover)What a magnificent piece of insight into very different minds. The over-sealous father, the not-present mother, and the very strong-minded, but different sisters. I have seldom had a better time reading, many times just revelling in the genious of Kingsolver's attention to details. The small spelling errors that occur when the girls use big words which they don't really understand and so on. The attention to detail is brilliant, but what makes this book great is the sad, but believable story and the magnificent depiction of the different thoughts of the family members. So different are they that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were from different planets.
Anyway, in the end it is Kingsolver's great writing skills that makes this a most entertaining and learning experience. Most warmly recommended!
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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Paperback - 10 Jan 2000)
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