Poisonwood Bible : A Novel

by Barbara Kingsolver | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0060512822 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingk00kaburrawing of San Jose, California USA on 4/9/2006
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingk00kaburrawing from San Jose, California USA on Sunday, April 09, 2006
Amazon.com: Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 2000: As any reader of The Mosquito Coast knows, men who drag their families to far-off climes in pursuit of an Idea seldom come to any good, while those familiar with At Play in the Fields of the Lord or Kalimantaan understand that the minute a missionary sets foot on the fictional stage, all hell is about to break loose. So when Barbara Kingsolver sends missionary Nathan Price along with his wife and four daughters off to Africa in The Poisonwood Bible, you can be sure that salvation is the one thing they're not likely to find. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle," says Leah, one of Nathan's daughters. But of course it isn't long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and they've arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathan's fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?

In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan's intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor's animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member's fortune across a span of more than 30 years.

The Poisonwood Bible is arguably Barbara Kingsolver's most ambitious work, and it reveals both her great strengths and her weaknesses. As Nathan Price's wife and daughters tell their stories in alternating chapters, Kingsolver does a good job of differentiating the voices. But at times they can grate--teenage Rachel's tendency towards precious malapropisms is particularly annoying (students practice their "French congregations"; Nathan's refusal to take his family home is a "tapestry of justice"). More problematic is Kingsolver's tendency to wear her politics on her sleeve; this is particularly evident in the second half of the novel, in which she uses her characters as mouthpieces to explicate the complicated and tragic history of the Belgian Congo.

Despite these weaknesses, Kingsolver's fully realized, three-dimensional characters make The Poisonwood Bible compelling, especially in the first half, when Nathan Price is still at the center of the action. And in her treatment of Africa and the Africans she is at her best, exhibiting the acute perception, moral engagement, and lyrical prose that have made her previous novels so successful.

Journal Entry 2 by wingk00kaburrawing from San Jose, California USA on Friday, March 28, 2008

This is book no. 86 on the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list.

Journal Entry 3 by wingk00kaburrawing at San Jose, California USA on Friday, January 03, 2014
Started listening to an audio version of this book last night.

Journal Entry 4 by wingk00kaburrawing at San Jose, California USA on Monday, January 13, 2014
Finished today.

Journal Entry 5 by wingk00kaburrawing at San Jose, California USA on Saturday, September 03, 2016
A missionary father drags his family, a wife and four daughters, off to deepest darkest Africa in order to convert the savages to good ol' Baptist Christianity. Problems ensue immediately, and the American family finds themselves unhappy and in over their heads.

I neglected to record my thoughts when I read this book, over two and a half years ago, and now I can hardly remember it. That's not a great testament to the impact of the work, is it?

I know that my general impression after finishing was that I did not care for it. I just can't remember the specific objections, because I can hardly remember the plot. I know that the youngest child dies tragically and that a good chunk of the book follows the lives of the remaining sisters after they leave Africa, but in terms of character traits or even names, I got nothing.

(See kids? This is why it's so important to document the books you read! You think you'll remember everything forever, but after a year or two it's gone unless the book was so good or so bad that it proved unforgettable.)

I'm marking it 5 stars, or "average", because if it had skewed really bad or really good, I would have remembered something about it. The fact that The Poisonwood Bible is so utterly gone from my memory banks just seems to prove that for me, at least, it just wasn't that good or interesting. I even picked up my copy of the book, intending to give it another go, but as I looked at the thick tome and felt its heft in my hand, I just couldn't make myself try.

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