The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

I read this book back in December, and I loved it, that’s why I was dreading writing this review. I pretty much decided not to write it, when I saw a great review by Liz at Adventures in reading, writing and working from home and it encouraged me to add my 2 cents to all that has already been written about this book.

The story is told to us by Orleanna Price, wife of a Baptist minister Nathan Price, and their four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth Marie. All of them are dragged by Nathan, pretty much against their will, to a mission in Belgian Congo in 1959. They are completely not ready to face what awaits them in Congo ad that is even before the political situation destabilizes. Each of them tries to deal with the situation differently, some fight, some do everything to keep appearances that everything is perfectly normal, some happily (if with a little fear) plunge into the unknown, and some like Nathan show no respect and no understanding of what they are facing. Some will manage to leave Africa, some won’t, some will come back, but they all will be marked by it forever.

This book is about many things and I won’t even attempt to list them all, instead at the bottom you can find links to other reviews, to give you a broader perspective, while I focus on what I found the most striking. For me it was a book about the weaker and the stronger. About all different shades of discrimination, because of race, gender, beliefs. It is a book about colonizers’ arrogance, embodied here by Nathan Price, who never gets to narrate his story, almost as if he leaves that to others, because it’s beneath him. We get a good picture of him from the stories of his wife and daughters; Nathan does not respect anything or anyone but religion. He firmly believes he comes from an inherently better place and brings enlightenment, because of that he doesn’t even try to understand the country and land he ended up living in, he goes immediately about changing it. It is fascinating how the attitude of his daughters towards him change during the course of the story.

It is a book about how the ones discriminated against gain power and confidence to fight back and how often that is not enough, life does not end in glorious victories, there always comes the painful, mundane next day, there come the consequences, not always deserved but always unavoidable.

It is also a book about guilt, how it can hold someone hostage and make them try to redeem sin no one else holds them accountable for. Of course, it is also a book about politics, but we always see it filtered through the voice of one of our narrators, and what voices those are, so deliciously distinctive, convinced of being educated yet often misusing or at least misspelling words. Beautifully executed personal style, that helps t build a distinctive personality of each of the Price ladies.

One last aspect that I found fascinating was how deeply they all have been affected by Africa, what was supposed to be few years tops turned into life forming experience. None of them was ever free again, some of them stayed for fear they won’t fit back in US, some tried to leave but come back and even those who left are still haunted by their experiences. One of them being the realization how small and helpless people are against the forces of nature.

I’ll stop here, but there is so much more to this book. Read it if you have a chance!

Other reviews:

Milliebot Reads

JPeaSmith

Dead Metaphor

The Guardian

NY Times

13 Things You May Not Know About the Poisonwood Bible

P.S. As a child for few years I lived in Patrice Lumumba street (I do come from ex-socialist country in the end), it was great to get some more context around his person.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

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5 thoughts on “The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

  1. This was an excellent review and I am glad I helped you to decide to write it! I loved the comment that for you one theme was around “the weaker and the stronger” and the fact that you learned more about your own old road name was fascinating!

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  2. I read this book when it was first released (loved it) and can’t remember much of the detail except one thing that stays in my mind – the bit about one of the girls never having crawled as a baby and having to ‘learn’ later in life. It stayed in my mind when my own kids were crawling!

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  3. I love this book when I read it so many years ago. It’s nice to have a refresher, since it’s now hard to remember everything about it. The things that still stick in my mind are the atmosphere/setting of the novel, and the arrogance of Nathan.

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