The poisonwood Bible : a novel

by Barbara Kingsolver

Paperback, 1998

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : HarperPerennial, 1999, c1998.

Description

The drama of a U.S. missionary family in Africa during a war of decolonization. At its center is Nathan Price, a self-righteous Baptist minister who establishes a mission in a village in 1959 Belgian Congo. The resulting clash of cultures is seen through the eyes of his wife and his four daughters.

Media reviews

Kingsolver once wrote that ""The point [of portraying other cultures] is not to emulate other lives, or usurp their wardrobes. The point is to find sense.'' Her effort to make sense of the Congo's tragic struggle for independence is fully realized, richly embroidered, triumphant.
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A writer who casts a preacher as a fool and a villain had best not be preachy. Kingsolver manages not to be, in part because she is a gifted magician of words--her sleight-of-phrase easily distracting a reader who might be on the point of rebellion. Her novel is both powerful and quite simple. It is also angrier and more direct than her earlier books.
The Congo permeates ''The Poisonwood Bible,'' and yet this is a novel that is just as much about America, a portrait, in absentia, of the nation that sent the Prices to save the souls of a people for whom it felt only contempt, people who already, in the words of a more experienced missionary, ''have a world of God's grace in their lives, along with a dose of hardship that can kill a person entirely.''
Although ''The Poisonwood Bible'' takes place in the former Belgian Congo and begins in 1959 and ends in the 1990's, Barbara Kingsolver's powerful new book is actually an old-fashioned 19th-century novel, a Hawthornian tale of sin and redemption and the ''dark necessity'' of history.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauranav
One of the worst things we can do is to make a god in the image of our fears and doubts and then force him on everyone else. But it is very difficult to accept a God of grace and mercy who says all your works of righteousness cannot buy you what He is willing to give you. So, we create our box, shove our god in there, and then judge everyone else who doesn't live up to our standards. As a nation, the United States has often done the same thing. We have cornered the market on democracy and we think everyone should have it, and it should look exactly like ours.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a man who survived WWII, when everyone else in his company didn't. He, and his government, decided his actions had been cowardly and he swore to never show cowardice again. He created his own image of God who was constantly watching him for the slightest sign of weakness. And he defined his own brand of bravery and weakness. The strength it takes to love and provide for and protect a family, a wife and 4 daughters, was not in his vocabulary. To him, bravery had to be something bigger and bolder. He dragged them all to the Congo in 1959 to spend a year enlightening the poor heathens living such primitive lives in Africa.

Being brave meant he could not reveal that he did not know everything. He never asked questions or listened to advice. He would force the facts, and the environment, and the words of the foreign languages to meet his expectations. He demanded perfection but expected failure from the weaker vessels in his life, never appreciating their strength or accomplishments, only seeing where they did not live up to his demands.

His story is paralleled by that of the United States watching the Congolese push for independence from a Belgium that had oppressed and robbed them for so long. The US and much of the rest of the world insisted they do it the "right" way and elect. But then, the Congolese elected a man the US didn't like or trust, because he wouldn't obey them in all things. The US proceeded to step in and redo things to make them "right".

The story is actually told from the perspective of the wife and 4 daughters, passing from one voice to another with each chapter. We see their thoughts and actions based on their love and faith in the father, or, later, their lack of love and faith in him. We see 5 lives irrevocably changed by his behavior, by his lack of grace and mercy. They each respond to the inevitable change in their own way, while watching their father refuse to admit change occurs. We also see a glimpse of a continent with a physical and spiritual environment that cannot support the exact same methods used in the US, no matter how hard we try to force our ways on it.

I struggled some with this book, but it was worth the reading. I struggled for the cruel, pitiless, and misguided religion of the father, and the resistance to become familiar with another culture before passing judgment on it (and finding it lacking).
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LibraryThing member Reader1066
Every time I read Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible I get something new from it. In the past, I have been left with ideas about family dynamics (especially parent-child relationships), the causes and effects of guilt, the contrast between the Western and post-colonial worlds, the gender dynamic and so on. This time, the two ideas that have stuck with me are: the seeming inability of people to really understand other cultures, and the possibility of forgiveness.

But before I get into all that, here is a little plot synopsis. I've often referred to this novel as the white people's version of Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe. In 1959, an American family from Georgia moves to the Belgian Congo to do missionary work. The father, Nathan Price, is a very religious Baptist who uses the Bible to punish his children. The mother, Orleanna, is a woman who has lost herself to her family. In a chapter near the end, she says that she has been conquered by her husband and his dream. There are four daughters. The oldest, Rachel, is a wannabe beauty queen who remains amazingly ignorant and naive all through her life, no matter what happens to her. Leah, the second oldest, is strong and vulnerable at the same time. She wants to please, but she resents the people she most wants to please sometimes. Adah, Leah's twin and my favorite character, is a strange, mostly silent commentator on the situation. To use Emily Dickenson's words, as Adah does, she tells the truth, "but tells it slant." Ruth May, the youngest, is so young that it's hard for me to get a fix on her. But she is a critical character. You're going to have to take my word for it because if I tell you more, I'll give away important parts of the plot.

The Price family is assigned to the small village of Kilanga. Things go from bad to worse and Nathan tries to force his religion onto the villagers and his family. The family endures famine, revolution, disease, and death. Sounds kind of plot heavy, doesn't it? But there is an amazing emotional depth to this book. It will make you laugh and it might make you cry. It will probably make you angry. Like all good book, The Poisonwood Bible will give you a lot to think about after you're finished.

This time, when I read the book, two things have stuck with me, as I've said. The first issue is the one of cultural understanding. Linguistic understanding kind of falls under things. But one of the things that starts the downward spiral of this book is the fact that the Price family can't ever really understand the people of the Congo or the land. This books is full of not only mistranslations, but culture clashes. Though Adah, Leah, and Ruth May do make efforts to join in village life, they keep hitting obstacles when they discover a cultural idea or custom that they just can't understand. Rachel and Nathan just barrel through the book, trying to reshape things without even bothering to learn about the other cultures around them. The second things that struck me is the nature of forgiveness. Guilt and forgiveness and atonement are big issues in ths book, and one of the great things about this book is that you get to see the whole life cycle of forgiveness and how the different characters deal with wrongs.

Another thing that I really like about this book is the way it's written. Each of the female Prices has their own say. And Kingsolver manages to write in five different voices in such a way that each character is distinct and realistic. They don't blur into one voice as I thought they might as the novel got longer. In addition, the way Kingsolver writes is just amazing. There are genuinely moving passages in this novel, especially in Orleanna and Adah's narratives. This is a beautiful book.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I first read this about seven years ago. I remember not enjoying it - but for the life of my I don't know why. This time through I really enjoyed it. I think the title really reflects the exploration of themes going on in this novel. It is too easy to see the whole world through our very limited perspective. Each character in this novel comes to grips with their experience in Congo in different ways but there is no denying that the experience changed them all fundamentally. I found the disintegration of the Prince family disheartening - but given the way in which the family was formed, I don't suppose it would be unexpected. Despite the overt Christian theme of missionary work in Africa, I found this work to be outside of Christianity - more closely tied to what I think of as paganism. Good reading that makes for challenging thinking.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bcteagirl
This was a book that had intimidated me for a year before I began to read it. I was intimidated by its size and what seemed like a heavy topic. I could not have been more wrong. It was a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a family that travels from the USA to what was then called the Congo to do missionary work in a small isolated village. Their father is somewhat unstable, in fact he had to pretty much bully his way into the position, they did not want to send him.

The story is broken up into short snippets and told from the point of view of the mother and each of the daughters as they grow up in the Congo. When I started reading this book it was the first phrase in the second section that really caught my attention and drew me into this book:

“We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle”. One theme I see in this book is just how unprepared they were, how ready they were to believe that their way of life could be transplanted to the jungle. They were there to save the blind/lost, but time and time again the community had to save them as they were simply so unprepared. Unprepared and unwilling (able?) to adapt. There is the story of how the father packed a hammer to bring with him, only to find that nothing in their village was built using nails. Trying to insist on baptizing children in alligator infested waters is another example. Told from largely the point of view of the daughters you can see both the humour and hubris in the situation.

Then there was a revolution in the Congo (After the US government assassinated their elected leader) and the missionaries were asked to return to the USA. Their father refused to let them return. We see his decline as well as the decline of the country.

I loved the tone of this book. Being told from the point of view of the children kept it from being to dark. It was also a very personal tone. If you have read [The Book of Negroes] and have been looking for a book with a similar tone I highly recommend [The Poisonwood Bible].

It is the type of book that sticks with you. If you have had the experience of completing a book and yet going back a few weeks later to read the first few chapters again simply to re-immerse yourself in / get the feel of the book again then you know what I mean. It is that kind of book. No need to be intimidated. Highly recommended. 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member kgodey
The Poisonwood Bible is not the type of book I usually read. Generally, most of my reading is escapist – where the world is exciting and people are having a more interesting life than I am, and I want to switch places with them. (I assume they'd probably want to switch places with me too, since they don't know that they're in a book and everything's going to be okay at the end.)

I would definitely not want to switch places with Orleanna Price or any of her four daughters. The Poisonwood Bible follows Nathan Price, a zealous and uncompromising Baptist missionary who drags his wife and daughters to the Belgian Congo. They are totally unprepared for what that means, and all sorts of unpleasant surprises ensue. Most of this arises from Nathan's total refusal to let Africa bend him to her will (as he thinks of it – I'd call it being adaptable.) In addition, the Congo is in the midst of gaining independence from Belgium, and major world powers are very interested in controlling the valuable resources of the fledgling new nation.

This book is definitely going to stay with me for a while. I think Kingsolver did an excellent job of depicting life in Africa, although you should take that with a few grains of salt since I've never been there. It did ring true, though. All the characters – Orleanna, Adah, Leah, Rachel and Ruth May also seemed like real people, and all very different. I didn't have to look at the chapter headings to see whose viewpoint it was. Ruth May was charming in the way she reported things without understanding what the meant, Adah made a lot of sense as the "crippled" girl that was actually the keenest learner, Leah's devotion to her father was pretty heartbreaking and Rachel was also believable, although I didn't really like her from the start.

I identified most with Adah – her limp, her palindrome poems and her quirky but organised mind made a lot of sense to me.

I didn't know very much about the history of the Congo/Zaire, so the background of the book was fascinating. However, Leah and Rachel seemed to embody extremes on the political spectrum, and although I liked the contrast, I wouldn't take either of their opinions as fact. (I think that they are plausible opinions for the characters, though.) I've seen criticisms that the author was being preachy, but I think it was just Leah's character being preachy and Rachel being a little underdeveloped at the end. I kept hoping that Rachel would redeem herself, but she didn't ever seem to.

There is no neat little bow of an ending, and the characters remain flawed in the end, even though they grow up noticeably. That's why I don't read books like this (general award/prize winning books) often – even though I appreciate them and I think they are masterfully done, they leave me very sad. Please note that I don't mean to insult The Poisonwood Bible by lumping it into an arbitrary category – I think it was unique.

Originally posted on my blog.
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LibraryThing member WintersRose
Someone described this book to me as "painful, painful, painful," I would have to agree, especially if you happen to actually know any missionaries. I wonder if Kingsolver knows any missionaries, or if she just based Nathan Price on the usual literary/televsion/movie ministery stereotype. Price is the major flaw of the book because he is just a worn-out stereotype with no complexity. His one departure from the stereotype is that he constantly quotes books of the Bible that are not recognized by Jews or Protestants as Scripture. In fact they're only recogized by the Catholic Church, which Price disdains. It seems to me that Kingsolver took the easy road here, perhaps finding it too difficult to portray a good Christian missionary.

The book moves makes slow, and again painful, progress until the village where the Prices live is attacked by army ants. After that it becomes a page-turner. Also keeping the reader's attention is the depiction of Congolese politics and history.

Kingsolver masterfully portrays each of her five female narrators, giving each a unique voice and perspective of events experienced by the Price family. There are no Congolese narrators.

The ending of the book is more gentle than the whole rest of the story, which seems to communicate that only the dead can experience or give true forgivenss.
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LibraryThing member itadakimasu
Masterfully told from the perspectives of each of the female characters in successive chapters - a woman, and her 4 female children ranging in age from 5-17. Each character has such a unique voice, and Kingsolver is unerring in the consistency of her characters from chapter to chapter. (spoiler)The only person who does not have his own voice is the father, Nathan Price - the over-zealous, guilt-ridden and abusive reverend who has such a narrow view that he can't see the destruction he is creating around himself. Weaves a rich telling of the history of the Belgian Congo - the racism, the theft of the Congo's riches by Europeans, the plot by European and USA leaders (including President Eisenhower) to install a puppet regime by planning for the assassination of a rightly elected leader of an independent Republic of the Congo. Excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
I cannot tell you how much I loved this novel. Having each of the women in the Price family narrate this novel was fantastic because each woman had their own views about what was going on. This was due to their age, their relationship to Nathan Price, and their world view when they arrived at the Congo. What made this even more amazing was that I could have told you within just a few sentences who was narrating without being told otherwise because each of the five women had such a distinctive voice. The narrator was also incredible, bringing each of these characters alive as individuals. I especially loved the way Dean Robertson, who sounded like a woman to me the entire time, took Rachel's common phrases and made them just so perfect.

Of all the characters, Adah Price, the twin sister with hemiplegia was my favorite. She lived so internally because of her condition and she used her brain to play with language. That use of language wasn't just for her own amusement. It added a dimension to their lives and to the Congo that brought me there so easily.

I hated Nathan Price. I feel somewhat judgmental saying that as he had no voice in the novel. Still, what he did - or more often didn't do - to and for his family while they were in the Congo so that he could answer to his calling was appalling. He may have bullied his family, but he was a weak man who hid behind the Bible.

The only issue I had with The Poisonwood Bible was that it got somewhat preachy about Africa and the Western world. Although I believe those were the thoughts and feelings of the narrators, the actual story and their lives said that much more loudly than the narrator's opinions.

I cannot recommend this novel more highly. If you haven't read it yet, you really should. Not only is the story rich, but the writing is excellent. You will not be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
"Beto nki tutasala? What are we doing?" quote from Page 523......and...I asked myself that question throughout the book as the Price Family continued with their missionary work and all the hardships and heartache the family endured.

The Price Family...Father Nathan, Mother Orleanna, and their four daughters pack for their mission in the Congo trying to figure out what they should take...not knowing that most of the things they take will be useless and not knowing what is in store for them in terms of day-to-day living. While they are there, the country fights for its independence from Belgium.

Nathan Price is a very controlling, mean person....he treats his wife and his daughters like second-class citizens while he preaches to the people of the Congo. He is oblivious to what he is putting his family through. The family endures the hardships of a third world country while enduring the abuse from Nathan.

It was interesting to see how the people in the Congo live. I definitely wouldn't want to live there for even a day....no niceties of life at all. I know the book was about more than the family's living arrangements and treatment of them by Nathan Price, but that encompassed all of it for me. :)

I enjoyed the Price family...all except the father...the daughters made some life decisions that definitely had their father's influence.

The book is superbly written......you won't want to put it down. You also learn that your childhood and what you learn does follow you throughout your entire life, influences your decisions about career and spouse, and that you are like your parents no matter how much may not want to admit it.

A definite must read...it will haunt you long after you have completed the last page.
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LibraryThing member gbill
A coming of age story in Africa circa 1959 initially, this book works on many levels. A missionary, his wife, and their four girls (aged 15, 14, 14, and 5) go to the Congo to bring the word of their God to the people, and find out just how different life is there. Kingsolver must have done a great deal of research in addition to channeling her memories from having lived in the Congo when she was seven for about a year, because the book is filled with lots of little details, and it really immerses you into this place. It casts a critical eye on colonialism, Christianity, and patriarchy, but it’s also a lesson in seeing the world from a completely different perspective, embracing African cultures and alternate ways of doing things, being empathetic, and respecting nature. Lastly, as the plot unfolds we see a lesson in healing and forgiveness, and it’s in the blend of all these things that the book is magic. There were times when I read it that I felt goosebumps.

The narration is from the point of view of the mother and the four girls, and the voices Kingsolver summons here are brilliant. The way they each speak is endearing, with southern expressions mixed with distinctive outlooks that evolve over the course of the book. The eldest daughter often slips a funny malapropism (or disturbing view of racial superiority), one of the twins takes a clear-eyed view of what’s happening around her as her disillusionment grows, and the other seems to see the world’s darker side through poetry and delightful palindromes.

The book is restrained and yet does not pull punches when it comes to America’s shameful, shameful actions in Congo to help overthrow a democratically elected leader (Patrice Lumumba) and install a corrupt autocrat (Mobutu Sese Seko), or Belgium’s before that (atrocities like cutting off worker’s hands, keeping the populace uneducated, and devoting all infrastructure to the precious mines only). Between greed, views of white supremacy, and using African countries as pawns in the Cold War, it’s not a pretty picture. It spurred me to read more about this and other places, e.g. Angola, and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

It also examines Christians who attempt to convert the inhabitants of a poorer country without understanding it, and who do so without real love and empathy in their hearts. The father smugly believes that he is going the right thing that he fails to see his own hypocrisy, or what damage he does by hitting his wife and kids, or by ramming his interpretation of God down everyone’s throats. On the other hand, we also see the previous pastor, a man who sees God in the creation around him (without a middleman causing the message to get “lost in translation”), and who does good work. Most of all I suppose, the book is a challenge to the idea that any one religion or dogma has the absolute truth, and it’s got some interesting philosophical musings of its own.
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LibraryThing member walkonmyearth
When I came upon the Price girls, just arriving in the Congo with their mother and missionary father, I laughed aloud at their perceptions of their new environment. Then, when their mother, Orleanna revealed that she locks herself into the kitchenhouse so she wouldn't run out on her family, I gasped for breath as she might have, in the heavy, choking presence of her husband.

More than once the Price family indicated that Africa gets under one's skin. In fact, much like the Poisonwood tree that could be so lovely yet burn and smother one with its direct contact or through its burning transformation, so could the Congo where religions and politics clashed and could lead to death of spirit or body.

Even after Orleanna found a home in the States, she couldn't help but keep watch toward the continent that claimed her youngest child. Her three other girls embraced Africa - not with a great peace, but because it was under their skin. Adah, having returned to the U.S., learned to physically transform her body while succeeding in a lab relationship with viruses and bacteria native to her Africa.

Leah, Adah's twin, sought for so long to find approval from her father. She seemed to inhale all that was Africa - the plants, the stories and lore, the politics, economies, and Anatole. Africa wasn't always kind, but Leah respected the relationship and was strengthened in return.

Even Rachel, who most times appears shallow and ignorant, proved that she had mastered the theory in her guide book 'How to Survive 101 Calamities'. In order not to be trampled, hold your elbows out and let yourself be moved by the frantic motion of others. It'll keep you above the fray and you'll reach your destination with the least effort and damage. Who could blame Rachel? She survived the best she knew. She was willing to bear the cost of survival. How do we measure the cost? Is the act of surviving enough?

Africa transformed each Price family member. From Ruth Ann, the youngest, who chose to exit as quickly as she could. Nathan Price, the zealous, guilt-laden father drove his family away and himself into tortured depths darker than any jungle. The lore, the weather, the jungle creatures, the wisdom and acts of kindness - beauty and conflict. Much as Nathan Price, tormented by his demons, could not control his strong-minded daughters and wife, neither could he control anything around him. It's as if this tension strengthend his daughters and wife to break free from him and find their own transformative freedom in the very environment he tried to beat down.

Poisonwood Bible was one I could not put down - once a fifth of the way into it, I stayed up until 4am to finish it. Kingsolver gave me a gift of beauty and insight...Africa's flora and fauna; a reminder of its political flux and repercussions; and the recognition that humanity with its strength and spirit comes in all forms.
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LibraryThing member readaholic12
Despite the recommendations of Oprah and my friends, this book languished in my to read pile for years. Years. I was reluctant to undertake a novel depicting a missionary family, and had burned out on Oprah recommendations long ago. In need of a large book to take on a road trip I decided to give in to peer pressure, not expecting much, but determined to cross it off my list. I was not prepared to be swept away by the story, the characters, by Africa's history and culture, to be moved to tears so many times. Barbara Kingsolver writes masterfully, beautifully, and this rich story was one of the best I can remember reading. I loved this book, and wonder why I resisted for so long. I was very sad to see it end, and wonder now, how I can read something next that won't seem inadequate in comparison.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alie
One of the best books I have ever read. Incredibly well written, clever, informative. It should have won the Pulitzer prize! The beginning of the book can be a bit challenging depending on one's belief in or view of religion, but it was such a captivating story. The telling of missionaries going into Africa, from mutliple character viewpoints, and covering a time span of thirty years. The novel was truly epic, and did not disapoint!… (more)
LibraryThing member neringros
Amazing book, really like the fact that it reads as one family's history, yet seems to engulf the complexity of world history within. There is love and hate, beauty and ugliness, the never ending search of belonging, justification of life and death.
Greatly layered and well-written. would definitely recommend it to anyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member jessicamhill
The Poisonwood Bible is told from the perspectives of the wife and daughters of a Baptist missionary. The father is a controlling, irrational man with a huge chip on his shoulder to prove, despite his cowardly actions in the Vietnam war, that he is indeed an alpha male. This need keeps his fairly normal family stuck in a politically unstable part of Africa with little, and eventually no, monetary support from the church.

Though the book climaxed a bit early for my taste and went off on a politically-charged tangent, I still loved it. The descriptions of Africa were beautiful, the characters were interesting, and I learned a lot about the Congo. I was also moved by the Price family's ability to adapt to even the most extreme change.
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LibraryThing member Appliquetion
Gather your courage and step in to the deep dark jungles of the Congo following the footsteps of the Poison wood preacher and his five wives. The story starts out in the year 1959 with a Baptist Minster and his family headed for the Congo jungle to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness that dwells in the deep the African heart. We meet Brother Price, his wife Orleanna, and four daughters Rachel, Adeh, Leah and Ruth as they are preparing for the trip over to Kilanga to spend a year as missionaries. Once there they discover that their journey will not end with only a year but will extend over a life time as the jungle takes root into their souls. This story is a well crafted combination of the characters journey through life and the turbulent history of the Congo all told in a rich vibrant manner that allows you to hear, see, touch and smell Africa through all the eyes of the family. Each chapter is told in the insightful view of each character by rotating through Orleanna, Rachel, Adeh, Leah and Ruth's personal perspectives of what is occurring at the moment.

The author carefully crafted her characters with unique personalities which causes you to love and hate them at the same time. They become inextricably human as the book progresses causing you to feel the joys and sadness each one experiences. You can't help but feel the pull of the jungle and the strife it's people face on a daily basis to survive.

I wish I could put in better words the way this book affected me. It got under my skin and has left me with a warm glow. I highly recommend this book for your TBR pile.
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
This was a very difficult read for me & not because of the politics. I already knew the history & already shared the author's view of the impact of Western "civilization" on Africa. I found much of the writing in this book to be lyrical & beautiful - so much so that the large portions of the book that were frankly pretty pedestrian were incredibly disappointing.

I appreciated that Kingsolver was able to write such distinctive female characters & disappointed that she seemed to blow past both of her story's antagonists - the father & the CIA pilot. Where her female characters had real life both of these characters were essentially caricatures & that blunted the force of some of her arguments as well as the dynamic in her storytelling.

I also think this book deserved an edit. I was about 200 or so pages in before I got interested. The final bit of the book - a sort of freeflowing "Where Are They Now?" thing - seemed tacked on - as if Kingsolver couldn't decide what to do once she'd reached the denouement that pushed everyone out of the African village one way or the other.

It's also unclear to me why the mother in the story gets almost no opportunity to speak when the bits that are written in her voice are among the most fleshed out. She's certainly a more "real" character (even in her silence) than is Rachel, the older sister who is prone to malaprorisms of one kind or another. I really wish that piece of gimmickry had been left out - without it Rachel would've been another interesting voice, but the visible technique of the device (like seeing the man behind the curtain) took me out of the story every time.

Despite these criticisms, this is a book worth reading, if only for the very last chapter which is in the voice of my favorite character, Ruth May. That along with many moments of beautiful physical description scattered throughout the book make it a worthwhile read, if one that is sometimes incredibly frustrating.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
This is the sort of book that, when I finish, I put down and just stare into space for a while. I'm contemplating: "what does this mean for my life?" The emotional impact is powerful and undeniable, but the specific implications for me and my relationships are left to me to sort out.
It's probably because I'm not exactly an intellectual giant, but I found it hard to understand what the last chapter was saying - so maybe it was trying to be more optimistic than I found it to be. My emotional response was one of profound depression: about the people of Africa, about what men can do to their families, about the hope of recovery from past traumas.
When I first heard about this book I thought I'd find its African setting to be too distant from my comfortable middle class urban existence for me to really relate. However, this wasn't the case at all. Indeed, I think maybe this is one of the points of the novel - that I am an oppressor (as a white, male) regardless of my personal role. But there's so much more than that in this book....the arbitrary nature of life and death; trauma and recovery; wrong and forgiveness; predestination and the power to change - you name it. And that's not to mention the specifics of American-African politics.
It's a longish book by my standards, but I never felt that it was dragging on. There's no wasted words, and the reading hours have been a great addition to my life.
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LibraryThing member HarryMacDonald
I concede that it may be cheating to post a "Review" of a book which I was unable to complete. Suffice it to say that what I could gag down was ham-fisted and pretentious, and as much a comment on the reading tastes of the modern world as it is on the abilities of this otherwise gifted writer. What a waste of time and paper!
LibraryThing member bell7
In alternating first-person narratives, missionary wife Orleanna Price and her daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, tell the story of their family's time in the Congo during its bid for independence in 1960. Each narrator has a unique voice and point of view. The prose is lovely, even while the story is ominous from the beginning and deals with themes of guilt and responsibility. Though the political commentary is a little heavy-handed near the end, the layered narration and expert touch with thematic content make this a good choice for a book club or class discussion, whether or not you agree with the author's persuasion. A challenging, thought-provoking story.… (more)
LibraryThing member cranmergirl
My antennae went up when in the foreword, the author thanked Mumia Abu-Jamal (convicted killer of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner) for his "intelligence and courage" after he critiqued her book from death row. I thought to myself, uh oh, here comes a left-wing sermon and unfortunately, I was right. Much of the book is interesting and very readable. But then came the sermon in the last hundred pages. The author emphasized the following points through her characters as they grew from children to adults: 1) Africa would be a paradise if not for the interference of the white man; 2) America is an evil country; 3) Christianity is a joke;
and 4) Communism is a better system than Capitalism.
Other LT readers apparently loved this book, which is nice for them. As for me, I know when I'm being lectured to by a leftist.
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LibraryThing member whirled
After hearing for years what a must-read The Poisonwood Bible is, I had a little trouble managing my expectations. It wasn't the instant favourite I thought it might be, but it was an entertaining read and somewhat enlightening on the topic of African political history. Kingsolver also raises interesting questions about the ethics of missionaries imposing Christian faith on the developing world, and about the nuclear family model which demands that all fall into line behind the patriarch, even when he's clearly out of his gourd.

Overall, I'd call this book a thought-provoking and surprising adventure.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
A beautiful portrayal of the travails of a missionary family who flew out to the Congo in 1960, shortly before it acquired independence from Belgium. The story is told in alternating narratives from Orleana, the mother, and her four markedly different daughters. Kingsolver masters the five different voices quite superbly - all of them are immediately believable, even when so blatantly at odds with each other.
One of the common threads that emerge from the various narratives is the misplaced obsession of the father (though his viewpoint is never cited directly), who is seen to be a monomaniac bully. At times hilarious, this novel is deeply interlaced with heart-rending tragedy, heightened by the sense of inevitability. But it is also a novel of great hope, and the potential for redemption.
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LibraryThing member Widsith
RACHEL

I am the oldest sister and a typical teenage girl, oh-jeez-oh-man. All I want is to go back to Georgia and kiss boys outside the soda bar, but instead here I am stuck in the Congo with unconditioned hair and ants and caterpillars and scary-but-with-a-heart-of-gold black people. Jeez Louise, the life of a missionary's daughter. Also I make a whole lot of hilarious Malabarisms, that's just one of the tenants of my faith. There's two of them now! Man oh man.

LEAH

The other day, Anatole rushed into our hut all excited about news from the wider world. ‘Great events are underway, Miss Price!’ he said. ‘Oh really?’ I asked, wondering if he would do for a love interest. ‘What's happening?’

Anatole took a deep breath. ‘Well, in the fallout from the Léopoldville riots, the report of a Belgian parliamentary working group on the future of the Congo was published in which a strong demand for "internal autonomy" was noted. August de Schryver, the Minister of the Colonies, launched a high-profile Round Table Conference in Brussels in January 1960, with the leaders of all the major Congolese parties in attendance. Lumumba, who had been arrested following riots in Stanleyville, was released in the run-up to the conference and headed the MNC-L delegation. The Belgian government had hoped for a period of at least 30 years before independence, but Congolese pressure at the conference led to 30 June 1960 being set as the date. Issues including federalism, ethnicity and the future role of Belgium in Congolese affairs were left unresolved after the delegates failed to reach agreement,’ he said.

‘Well I guess that's us brought up to date, then,’ I sighed. Anatole folded up his printout from Wikipedia and left the hut.

ADAH

Sunrise unties blue skies clockwise. Pinot noir, caviar, mid-sized car, Roseanne Barr. I have a slightly deformed body and I Do Not Speak, which means I have more time for deep, ponderous internal monologues and wordplay. Ponder. Red nop. That's my thing – I say words backwards. Ti t'nsi, gniyonna? For you see, each of us Price girls needs a distinctive stylistic tic, otherwise we'd all sound exactly the same. Bath, sack, cock, cash, tab! There's a palindrome for you. No nasal task, Congo – loud duolog nocks Atlas anon. Good luck finding a profound thematic message in one of these. But if I run out of them, I guess I could always just go through the nearest Kikongo dictionary for material. *flips to page 342* Nkusu means ‘parrot’ but nkusi means ‘fart’. Hmmm. I wonder how many paragraphs I can get out of that?

RUTH MAY

I am just a widdle girl. I don't understand half of the things I see around me, which is just as well, given all the conflict diamonds and CIA agents I keep stumbling on. I play with all the children in the village, even though I have no toys, which is sad. If one of the village children dies, it's just as sad and tragic as if one of us cute little white girls dies. Well, not really, obviously, otherwise the whole book would have been about a Congolese family in the first place, but maybe if I keep saying it you'll at least think about it for a couple of minutes. Daddy doesn't seem to like the Congolese at all. Our daddy is such a big meanie. He loves god a whole bunch but he's just awful to Mother and my sisters. He's just the nastiest ogre you can imagine. ’Course, I guess he probably wouldn't see things that way. That's why we don't let him narrate any chapters of his own.
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LibraryThing member StoutHearted
This is a gripping tale that shines best when focusing on the African experience of the four Price sisters: vain Rachel, twins Leah (the bold one) and Adah (the disabled but smart one) , and the littlest Ruth May, along with their emotionally abused mother Oleanna. The novel itself spans their lives from their arrival to Africa through their lives many decades later. They came woefully unprepared, forced by the fierce, stubborn patriarch of the Price family, Nathan. The women see right away what Nathan does not: they are unprepared for this journey. Little of what they bring from America is useful in the harsh climate. Even their ideals are out of place. Nathan's obsession to baptize the African children in the crocodile-infested waters is just one of the family's many blunders that ultimately tears them apart, the aftermath of which haunts the women all the rest of their lives.

In the background is the tumultuous history of Africa, from being divided up by cruel conquerers to civil wars and phony elections for independence. Kingsolver cannot refrain from politicizing the novel, and her voice is loudly heard, sometimes loud enough to throw off the characters, as in the case of Oleanna in the middle of the novel. It is hard to argue the damage done by the colonists, however. Dealing with the aftermath spans two different extremes: from the cold acceptance of apartheid by Rachel, to the intense white guilt felt by Leah. Sometimes Kingsolver runs away with her politics and forgets the story, but thankfully, it is a strong enough tale that easily allows one to jump right back in.

Speaking of politics, Kingsolver hada strange note in the beginning of the book that almost put me off wanting to read it. In her acknowledgements page, she thanks Mumia Abu-Jamal for reading a copy of the novel she sent to him in prison and making notes on it. Abu-Jamal was tried and convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. I was puzzled why Kingsolver would contact such a person for approval. Granted, Abu-Jamal's cause has been taken up by many celebrities and idealistic college students, many of whom are unfamiliar with the details of the case, and claim Abu-Jamal was framed for the color of his skin. Whether you believe in Abu-Jamal's innocence or not, I felt this was a strange move on the author's part. This is also why I particularily believe that Kingsolver identifies most with the character of Leah, whose guilt makes her as much an "other" in her adopted homeland as her skin. It appears born out of Kingsolver's guilt in trying to understand racism performed by her race against Abu-Jamal's. For these heavy topics such as racism and dealing with the aftermath of the brutal slavery of Africa's people, there are no easy answers. Ultimately, this is what Kingsolver captures best, the shell-shocked after-effects of one country's influence on another's.
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