Hello book lovers! If you are joining us for the Poisonwood Bible Readalong, I hope you are enjoying the book. If you’re visiting for the first time to discuss this book, welcome! This month, Lost in Books, Savvy Working Gal and I are happy to host a readalong of The Poisonwood Bible as part of our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge.
About Poisonwood Bible
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.
WARNING: THIS DISCUSSION WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. If you haven’t read Books 1 and 2 and don’t want spoilers, please come back to discuss when you are done with those sections.
Ok, here goes…
In Books 1 and 2, we meet the Price Family: father Nathan, mother Orleanna and their 4 daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May. Orleanna and her daughters follow Nathan relunctantly to Belgian-ruled Congo in attempts to spread the word of his Baptist faith. The first couple books talk about the family’s initial culture shock and adjusting to their new financially impoverished environment. The section ends when the Congo earns independence from Belgium and new Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba’s speech.
I started reading this book years ago upon my good friend’s recommendation. I was struck initially by how bleak and depressing the beginning was and eventually I gave it up. Determined to make it through after hearing so many book lovers rave about it, I am giving The Poisonwood Bible another try. I tell my kids to try things twice before they decide they don’t like it, so time for me to follow my own rules and finish this book.
The beginning was still tough for me to get through. I am disliking Nathan’s character and it’s difficult watching him trying to spread the word of a glorious God when he treats his own family so poorly and sometimes, downright cruelly. I get bogged down and a bit lost when it comes to his sermons and Biblical interpretations. His sense of mission is strong and almost too extreme.
I do enjoy that the story is told from the girls’ point of view and how they perceive the Congo and their father’s purpose. I normally enjoy books that are told from multiple points of view and I feel like it really allows us to know the girls’ better and they are all so very different. It comes as no surprise to me that I like introverted Adah’s voice the best. She’s so perceptive, brilliant and humble, she’s the girl I feel the most emotionally connected to.
What I am enjoying most so far is getting to know about life in the Congo. I don’t think I will ever get to to travel to Africa in person and so far I love learning about the language, the beliefs and how these people survive and thrive on so little. It’s an eye-opening read and like Under the Jeweled Sky, which was set during India’s independence from the British, it makes me want to learn more about the Congo’s actual history. We think of independence from another country’s reign as a positive change but in both of these books, their independence can also have dire consequences for the people living there.
1. Which narrator’s voice do you connect with or want to know more about what she’s thinking? Do you like the alternating narrators?
2. What do you think of Nathan? Is he the right person to preach to the Congolese? Do you think he will be successful in his mission?
3. What do you think of Nathan and Orleanna’s relationship? Are they in love or is their marriage more a business arrangement?
4. The Price Family carries little things from the US on them to the Congo, the small comforts of home to start their mission. They carried garden seeds and cake mix. What comforts of home would you take with you if you were traveling abroad?
5. The family has quite a culture shock when they arrive in the Congo. From the meager housing accommodations (which are considered lavish to the Congolese) to the cooking style requiring all day to boil water to prepare meals and have a warm bath. Have you ever been to a place which gave you a culture shock? How did it make you feel? What did you learn from it?
6. The girls make hope chests. I didn’t know the meaning behind them. Did you have one or make one?
7. We learn early on that tragedy is in the horizon. Do you think the Price family is strong enough to endure it together? What do you think of their family dynamic?
8. What message do you think Barbara Kingsolver is trying to teach us with this part of the story?
9. What does independence mean to the Congolese? How do you think independence will impact the Congolese village where the Price Family lives? Are they ready for it? Will it make their condition better or worse?
And some more in-depth questions from LitLovers:
9. What are the implications of the novel’s title phrase, the poisonwood bible, particularly in connection with the main characters’ lives and the novel’s main themes? How important are the circumstances in which the phrase comes into being?
10. Why do you suppose that Reverend Nathan Price is not given a voice of his own? Do we learn from his wife and daughters enough information to formulate an adequate explanation for his beliefs and behavior? Does such an explanation matter?
11. What do we learn about cultural, social, religious, and other differences between Africa and America? To what degree do Orleanna and her daughters come to an understanding of those differences? Do you agree with what you take to be Kingsolver’s message concerning such differences?
Barbara Kingsolver on The Poisonwood Bible
I was really curious to know how the author researched this book. There are so many details about Congolese life. I found these interview questions on the author’s website and it gives us great insight as to why she wrote this book, her astounding research about the Congo and teenagers in the 50’s, and figuring out Adah’s palindromes. Check out the interview with Barbara Kingsolver on her website. I found it incredibly fascinating!
Join the Conversation on G+ and Goodreads
Well that’s it for this week’s discussion. Feel free to answer the discussion questions in the comments, on G+ or Goodreads! And please post your own questions you’d like us all to answer. Please join in the conversation to discuss this thought-provoking book!