The Poisonwood Bible Paperback – 10 Jan 2000
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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.
'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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I wasn't too sure about this book to start with but a friend recommended it. I stuck with it and loved it. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Amazon Customer
This is a fabulous read in every sense. Could not put it down. She is an extraordinary vivid writer and her detailing is superb. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Elizabeth Dennis
Amazing, educational and emotional. Beautifully scripted. Clear authentic voices from a growing family in traumatic circumstances.Published 26 days ago by BlossomSwaggers
A story of an American family with a mission to serve God in Africa who through their ordeals and other useful experiences gain an insight into what many call the Trouble Heart of... Read morePublished 1 month ago by John T C
A very long winded book which fascinated me especially at the beginning and ending .Always something happening. Good characters.Thought provoking.Published 1 month ago by barretts51