19 March 2010

The Poisonwood Bible

One of the reasons I love my "Literature by Women" group at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs is that I am either introduced to books I would have never read or have the opportunity to read books I've been eyeballing for some time.  The Poisonwood Bible is definitely one of the latter; I'd never read it even though I was intrigued by the plot and owned a copy for quite a while.  Thank you, LbW readers for voting for The Poisonwood Bible.

There are many issues swirling through Barbara Kingsolver's tale of a (white) family in the Belgian Congo: racism, colonialism, women's rights, politics, theology, tolerance, consumerism.  The narration of The Poisonwood Bible is carried by the women of the Price family in turn; the mother, Orleanna, introduces each section of the book then the daughters - Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May - narrate the action in turn.  They each have a very distinct voice; Orleanna is filled with guilt, Rachel is spoiled and complaining, Leah is desperate for her father's affection, Adah speaks to the reader but not to the others, and Ruth May lends a six-year-old's perspective to her view of an African village.

The Poisonwood Bible is a book that makes me angry and fills me with sadness.  Nathan Price is easily the least sympathetic character in the book; he is extremely intolerant of local customs in Kilanga, he verbally and physically abuses his wife and daughters using religion as his excuse, and puts his family in mortal danger by refusing to acknowledge the realities of the political situation in 1950s/1960s Africa.  The history of the Congo is accurately depicted; having won independence from Belgium the country is immediately torn apart by civil war when the governments of the United States and Belgium interfere to "save" the country from Socialist/Communist leanings (this interference directly leads to the authoritarian regime of Mobutu Sese Seko).   The Prices' narration depicts the hope and despair of average Congolese as well as the family's helplessness in the face of their own plight.

I was surprised to find that the narration of The Poisonwood Bible continued after the family leaves Kilanga village.  While it does make the novel seem a little over-long I think the extension of the Prices' story is important because it shows how the experiences in the Congo shaped each of the four daughters.  I am really pleased the LbW crowd voted for The Poisonwood Bible; it is a very unique novel.

Join LbW in April when we read Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.


  1. I had this book on my TBR shelf for years before I finally picked it up. I loved it. It's such a sad story, but I've found that Adah and Leah's narrated sections have really stayed with me.

  2. I do find myself thinking about the characters a little more than I do with other books I've finished....Leah and Adah were my favorite characters.

  3. I recently read this one too and liked that it continued after they left the village. I like to know what happens to kid characters when they grow up. And I got a kick out of the crass sister who ran the hotel.

    I am glad I found your blog. We seem to share similar taste in books, so I signed up as a follower.