I received this book for free from Library for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Published by HarperCollins
Publication Date: Oct. 13, 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Historical, World or cultural
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4* – I Really Liked It! – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is gorgeous, lyrical, yet brutal and intense. I truly understood what life was like in the 1960’s for the Prices, a missionary family living in the Congo in the 1960’s. I pick up these books set in other cultures to get a true sense of what life is like there. In many cases, I’m disappointed that the author doesn’t paint a detailed enough picture about the location and culture. Not so with Barbara Kingsolver. A highly recommended and unforgettable read.POISONWOOD BIBLE by @b_kingsolver is intensely brutal and beautiful. #BookClub guide #printable Click To Tweet
Synopsis from Goodreads:
“The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”
We’ve been discussing this book all month long as part of our Poisonwood Bible Readalong. This book really had me torn, I fought hard to get into Books 1 & 2, flew through Books 3-5 and struggled again with Books 6 & 7. So I will break down for you what I loved and what I didn’t.
Sections are each narrated by a different female character, Orleanna and each of her 4 daughters: Barbie-like Rachel, tomboy Leah, physically disabled Adah and precocious and fiesty Ruth May. Even though we get into each of their heads, I still had a hard time connecting emotionally to the characters in this book.
I most identified with the mother of the family, Orleanna Price. She fought to keep them together through the toughest of situations dealing with an overzealous husband, Nathan, in a land where survival was physically demanding and difficult. Orleanna’s voice was the most powerful and poignant and I wished each time we heard more from her. Unfortunately, her narrations were the shortest. I think the lack of emotional connection is one reason it was so hard for me to get through this book.
The other reason I struggled with reading was that the Price Family’s experience in the Congo was so brutal and full of extremes: extreme weather, extreme poverty, extreme bugs! The Congo truly tested them as individuals and as a family. The story was intense, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and sometimes downright depressing. There were a few inspiring and magical moments scattered throughout that just kept me yearning for more and hopeful but overall, I was just so emotionally drained by my “visit” to the Congo.
I think my favorite thing about this book was that I truly understood what the Congo was like in the 1960’s. I pick up these books set in other cultures to get a true sense of what life is like there. In many cases, I’m disappointed that the author doesn’t paint a detailed enough picture about the location and culture. Not so with Barbara Kingsolver.
Kingsolver clearly thoroughly researched the political impact of the Congolese indepence from Belgium and drew from her own experiences spending a year there when she was a child. Everything was explained in vivid detail, from the landscape, to the creatures, to the nuances in the native language and customs, to their sanitation, health and cooking to their politics, beliefs and religion. This book was a fantastic learning tool to understand the Congolese experience both as a Belgian colony and then after the Congo gained independence and years into the future.
Writing and Favorite Quotes:
Oh my word, Kingsolver is a true artist with her writing. Gorgeous, lyrical, yet brutal and intense. She explains everything so vividly you feel like you are there experiencing every drought, fear and joy with the Congolese and Price Family. Not just a sentence here and there, I highlighted paragraph upon paragraph in my Kindle. Here are some of my favorites without giving you any spoilers:
“And all of us with our closed eyes smelled the frangipini blossoms in the big rectangles of open wall, flowers so sweet they conjure up sin or heaven, depending on which way you are headed.” (Book One)
“Here, bodily damage is more or less considered to be a by-product of living, not a disgrace. In the way of the body and other people’s judgment I enjoy a benign approval in Kilanga that I have never, ever known in Bethlehem, Georgia.” (physically handicapped Adah says in Book One)
“Yet we sang in church ‘Tata Nzolo“! Which means Father in Heaven or Father of Fish Bait depending on just how you sing it, and that pretty well summed up my quandry. I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence. I can understand a wrathful God who’d just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of the living in the same house. (Book Two)
“But I’ll tell you a secret. When I want to take God at his word exactly, I take a peep out the window at His Creation. Because that, darling, he makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers.” (Book Three)
Further Discussion Including Spoilers and a Printable of Discussion Questions
If you read it and want to talk about it more, then visit our discussions including spoilers here and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments for each post.
I compiled a printable of all the discussion questions, if you’d like to use for your book club. I think it makes a great readalong/book club discussion because there is so much to discuss if your book club likes serious and thought-provoking subject matter.
Travel the World in Books Reading challenge – Congo/Zaire
Mount TBR Reading Challenge – it’s been on my TBR shelf on Goodreads since 2012!
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Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen – 5* – historical fiction about a forbidden love during the time of India’s independence from Britain and how that impacted its people
Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker – historical fiction set in ancient Syria about the rise and reign of Queen Zenobia