Poisonwood Bible Discussion Questions Readalong Week 3



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 through 5 and don’t want spoilers, please come back to discuss when you are done with those sections. If you want to share your thoughts on the previous chapters, find  Book 1 and 2 discussion here and Book 3 discussion here. We also have a great discussion in our Goodreads group too.

Ok, here goes…

Story Recap

Book 3 ended with with the family escaping the vicious nsongonya, Leah tells Anatole she loves him and there are plans hatching to assassinate Lumumba. Book 4 begins with Orleanna’s vision of how the US was involved in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese Prime Minister. Tragedy strikes the Price Family and young Ruth May is the victim. The long awaited rain comes to the Congo after her passing and Reverend Price takes the opportunity to baptize the Congolese children who have come to pay respects to Ruth May. The Price Family is forever changed after Ruth May’s passing. Orleanna and the girls leave the Congo without their father and make the long walk to their freedom. Rachel, Leah and Adah take vastly different paths in their lives.

My Thoughts:

Wow, just wow. Book 4 and the start of Book 5 rip out my heart with Ruth May’s passing. January is always tough for me personally. I grieved deeply with Orleanna remembering the loss of our baby girl 15 years ago this week. I dropped my two younger boys off with their grandparents yesterday and the house is eerily quiet as I am missing their morning snuggles and preparing myself to tell my kids about their older sister. Orleanna’s quotes to open Book 5 pierced my heart:

As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer’s long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn’t touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn’t stop.

The substance of grief is not imaginary. It’s as real as rope or the absence of air, and like both those things it can kill. My body understood there was no safe place for me to be.

A mother’s body remembers her babies – the folds of soft flesh, the softly furred scalp against her nose. Each child has its own entreaties to body and soul. It’s the last one, though, that overtakes you.”

Nathan upset me disrespecting his daughter’s memory by attempting to baptize people as they say goodbye to Ruth May. Does baptism still hold significance if the children are unaware of what’s happening? He’s callous. If losing his youngest child doesn’t shake his entire world, I don’t know what will. He called his children “undeserved blessings” and he surely doesn’t deserve them.

I am surprised by how Adah’s and Leah’s lives turn out and how Ruth May’s passing affects them. Adah becomes Orleanna’s youngest and requiring her care.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think Nathan’s saying of “Tata Jesus is Bangala!” signifies? In Congolese, when pronounced correctly, Bangala means “something precious and dear”. But the way Nathan says it means “the poisonwood tree”.

2. Orleanna says, “I was occupied so entirely by each day, I felt detached from anything so large as a month or a year. History didn’t cross my mind. Now it does. Now I know, whatever your burdens, to hold yourself apart from the lot of more powerful men is an illusion.” Do you feel like you’re living on auto-pilot? Like history is passing you by? How do you ground yourself and be present in the moment? In the blink of an eye, our kids grow up and we’re decades older.

3. Adah said, “In that other long ago place, America, I was a failed combination of too-weak body and over-strong will. But in Congo I am those things perfectly united: Adah.” Where do you feel you are perfectly united, perfectly whole?

4. What did you think of Adah’s miraculous recovery? Why now was she able to get past her physical handicaps and speak?

5. How does Ruth May’s death impact Leah? Are you surprised she stayed in Africa and married Anatole?

6. Leah gives us a glimpse of life in other parts in Africa. Where children are sold into prostitution and where everything must be bargained for, even medical care. How did her childhood prepare her for her the difficulties of raising biracial boys in Africa?

7. Are you surprised how Rachel turned out and that she stayed in Africa?

8. Share some of your favorite quotes from this book.

Join the Conversation on G+ and Goodreads

I’ll be posting the discussion on G+ and Goodreads too so be sure to join our groups there and connect with other book lovers who want to Travel the World in Books!


Don’t forget to join us on Twitter next Wednesday, January 28, 2015 from 9-10pm EST for our wrapup discussion of The Poisonwood Bible. We will be using the #TraveltheWorldinBooks hashtag during the chat. We’ve had a great discussion so far but it will be fun getting to discuss it live!


Last week we announced our Foodie February 2015 event. Read books about food from around the world in February. More info and sign up for Foodie February 2015 here.

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!


  1. Wow…this book just got better and better!

    1. I must have missed something, because I am confused by this question…

    2. Unfortunately, I think there are many of us who live our lives on auto-pilot. It is important to live in the present but it is also very difficult!

    3. I found Adah’s ideas about her “transformation” to be kind of sad, but very truthful. It almost sounded like she didn’t feel like herself now that her physical disability was less noticeable. It’s interesting that she felt the drive to be “perfect” in America but was seen as “whole” in her own right in the Congo. In my life, I feel most balanced when I am around others who share similar ideas and beliefs and are open to new ideas.

    4. I’m not sure. I feel like I missed something here because I couldn’t figure out how everything was “fixed.”

    5. I’m not surprised that she stayed in Africa and married Anatole. I thought it was a fitting future for her. I found it sad that she will always blame herself for Ruth May’s death, even though it is somewhat an irrational belief.

    6. By the end of the book, I found Leah to be strong, what with having a husband in and out of prison, and raising her boys with next to nothing. I liked her views about life and living in Africa, and it seems she learned a lot when living in the Congo as a child.

    7. I was really surprised that Rachel stayed in Africa. I think that because of her experience as a child in the Congo, she didn’t fit in where she would have. She couldn’t go back to the US because she had seen too much, but she couldn’t accept what she had seen, so she didn’t fit in in Africa, either. I felt like she was somewhat unhappy with her life and seemed to wander through Africa aimlessly chasing after what she thought would make her happy, but I never felt like she was happy.

    1. Glad you are enjoying it Rachel.

      1. “Bangala” means supreme, divine when prounounced correctly. However, Nathan misprounces it and the way he says it means the Poisonwood tree. So when he says “Tata Jesus is Bangala”, he’s actually saying Jesus is poison. I was asking what you thought it signified.

      2. Very true, our society is so fast paced these days that we’re all on autopilot. I have been making an effort to to slow down and enjoy the moment with my family.

      3. I was sad too she didn’t feel whole without her handicap.

      4. Yea I kinda missed it too. My cohost Becca thought in cases like this the half of the brain she has compensated for the missing half and that helped heal her. I thought the recovery was sort of sudden and still not really clear on it. I do think mental state can attribute to your health so I wondered if her insecurities caused part of her delay from healing.

      5. It is sad she blamed herself but I think it’s human nature to doubt ourselves and ask what might’ve been.

      7. I think you are right that Rachel was aimlessly searching for happiness. She tried to find it in money and men and perhaps was kidding herself that she was happy. Or maybe she was just that materialistic. Next to Nathan, she was my least favorite character. Her materialism at the end just got on my nerves.

      Sorry it took me so long to respond. I look forward to hearing what you thought of the finale!

  2. Tanya –

    I had a completely different perception of the significance of Nathan baptizing the children as they mourned Ruth May’s death. You had to pick up on the one line that explained that Ruth May had NOT been baptized herself because Nathan was holding off for the pageantry (as Adah put it, I think) – waiting to baptize his own child along with the Congolese children of the village in the mass baptismal he pictured in the river. In other words, according to his own teachings and faith, his daughter would not get into heaven…and he sees that is his own fault.

    So, when he started baptizing the children in the rain, I saw it as an act of desperation. He was responsible for keeping his own child out of heaven, and he wasn’t going to let any other child ever suffer the same fate. That’s how I read that scene.

    2) I related closely with Orleanna’s musings that you quoted: “…whatever your burdens, to hold yourself apart from the lot of more powerful men is an illusion.” There are huge political issues and controversies surrounding our illness (ME/CFS) and the lack of government support and funding (more than a million US adults affected and less than $5 million a year in NIH funding). I have sometimes been involved in some advocacy efforts but more recently, took Orleanna’s approach of focusing on myself and my family – finding us the best treatments currently available and staying out of the politics to protect myself from the damaging effects of the stress (not to mention a lack of time and energy). But this statement of Orleanna’s is so true. I really can’t ignore what’s going on in the larger world with respect to our illnesses because our future fates are wrapped up all that. Her statement hit me pretty hard and really made me stop and think.

    One of the few details I remembered from my previous reading of the novel was Ruth May’s death, but it was still just as upsetting the second time around!

    I wasn’t at all surprised that Leah stayed nor that she married Anatole, but I am still surprised that Rachel stayed instead of returning to the US. And it’s not all that surprising but still appalling that Rachel could turn out to be so horribly racist after living in Kangala for over a year. I guess the key is that she always kept herself apart from those around her.

    Don’t have my book by my side right now, but will get back to you with quotes – I marked quite a few!

    I think I am added to the Goodreads group now so will try to participate there, too.


    Book By Book

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