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The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial…

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial Classics) (original 1998; edition 2005)

by Barbara Kingsolver

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20,89542469 (4.2)885
Title:The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial Classics)
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005), Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

  1. 213
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (paulkid)
    paulkid: Race relations on different continents, told from multiple female perspectives.
  2. 172
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 142
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  4. 120
    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (jlelliott)
    jlelliott: Each tells the story of Christian missionaries in Africa, one from the perspective of the missionaries, one from the perspective of the local people targeted for "salvation".
  5. 121
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  6. 122
    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (kraaivrouw)
  7. 90
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both about "colonialisms" abuses in the Congo, among other themes.
  8. 80
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  9. 92
    Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (allenmichie)
  10. 50
    Someone Knows My Name: A Novel by Lawrence Hill (Bcteagirl)
    Bcteagirl: The book has a similar familial tone and is also told from the point of view of young girls growing up in a difficult situation. I had been looking for a book with a similar writing style and was happy to find this one. If you liked The Book of Negroes I recommend The Poisonwood Bible and vice versa.… (more)
  11. 72
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  12. 50
    A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: You could use the theme of colonialism to pair The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver with Passage to India by E. M. Forster.
  13. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  14. 61
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  15. 73
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  16. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  17. 30
    Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart by Tim Butcher (CatherineRM)
    CatherineRM: I love both these books and they nicely juxtapose each other with their Congo total immersion albeit one fictional and one factual. Tim Butcher traces the Congo River from its source through the dense equatorial land that the protagonist of the Kingsolver book occupied with his suffering family. Both books made a lasting impression on me and I have great time for Africa as I lived in Tanzania - close to Congo geographically for most of the time - and it has a big place in my heart. Read both books and be enriched!… (more)
  18. 20
    The Civilized World by Susi Wyss (ShortStoryLover)
    ShortStoryLover: Although it's much shorter than Poisonwood, The Civilized World also has multiple points of view from female perspectives and the chapters are almost all set in various parts of present-day Africa.
  19. 20
    My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (wandergirl881)
    wandergirl881: Well researched historical fiction
  20. 20
    The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (charl08)

(see all 32 recommendations)

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» See also 885 mentions

English (419)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All (422)
Showing 1-5 of 419 (next | show all)
First read June 2006
Re-read June 2017

Beginning in 1959, this is the story of the Price family, led into the Congo by Southern Baptist preacher Nathan Price. His wife Orleanna and daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May each take turns narrating, Orleanna from years later, in Georgia, and her daughters during and after the family's time in the Congo.

Nathan is single-minded and inflexible; he expects to convert people without listening to them and gaining an understanding of their current beliefs, or why they do things the way they do them. Orleanna or any of her daughters (except Rachel) would have done a better job; Nathan simply alienates and frightens the people of Kilanga, all the time ignoring his wife's labor and the danger his family is in, both from local perils (e.g. snakes) and larger political events.

The Price family's intrusion into the Congo is a microcosm of international interference in the Congo and other African nations, particularly concerning the mindset that white European/American culture, education, lifestyle, and religion are superior to the black "primitive" way of life, without respect to the differences in history, culture, and climate.

On both a personal and political level, these intrusions and interferences have disastrous consequences.


"...sometimes He doesn't deliver us out of our hardships but through them." (Father to Leah, 78)

No matter what happens on God's green earth, Father acts like it's a movie he's already seen and we're just dumb for not knowing how it comes out. (Rachel, 162)

I know about this kind of story - the lonely look down upon the hungry; the hungry look down upon the starving. The guilty blame the damaged....It makes everyone feel much better. (Adah, 174)

Watching my father, I've seen how you can't learn anything when you're trying to look like the smartest person in the room. (Leah, 229)

...it's still frightening when things you love appear suddenly changed from what you have always known. (Leah, 236)

But where is the place for girls in that Kingdom? The rules don't quite apply to us, nor protect us either. (Leah, 244)

In Congo, it seems like the land owns the people. (Leah, 283)

The point I was trying to make was so true there was not even a good way to say it.
"My father's idea of what will make things work better doesn't fit anything here." (Leah to Anatole, 284)

And perhaps it was not evil I saw but merely the way of all hearts when fear has stripped off the husk of kind pretensions. (Adah, 305)

"Don't expect God's protection in places beyond God's dominion. It will only make you feel punished....When things go badly, you will blame yourself....Don't try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad things can still happen. And if you are bad, you can still be lucky." (Anatole to Leah, 309)

...we messengers of goodwill adrift on a sea of mistaken intentions. (Orleanna, 323)

As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. (Orleanna, 381)

Every betrayal contains a perfect moment, a coin stamped heads or tails with salvation on the other side. (Adah, 414)

It's as if history can be no more than a mirror tipped up to show us exactly what we already knew. (Leah, 448)

What happened to us in the Congo was simply the bad luck of two opposite worlds crashing into each other, causing tragedy. (Rachel, 465)

The arrogance of the able-bodied is staggering....We would rather be just like us, and have that be all right. (Adah, 493)

We came, we saw, we took away and we left behind, we must be allowed our anguish and our regrets. (Adah, 493)

...everything you thought you knew means something different in Africa. (Leah, 505)

There is not justice in this world. (Leah, 522)

[Father] stamped me with a belief in justice, then drenched me in culpability. (Leah, 525)

Culture is a slingshot moved by the force of its past....Poor Africa. No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill. (Adah, 528) ( )
  JennyArch | Jun 20, 2017 |
Touching. Told throught the voices of an irrational preacher's wife and four daughters, this book is about a parochial family that moves to the Congo on an ill-fated and not advised missionary trip because of a preacher's ambitions. Taking place through the 1950's and 60's, the rigidness of the know-it-all and uncompromising preacher clashes with the possibilities of his work, as well as with the revolutionary Congo itself. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
Deep, multifaceted narrative of a Baptist missionary family in the Belgian Congo in 1959, on the eve of Congolese independence, told by Nathan Price's wife and four daughters. ( )
  christinedux | Jun 7, 2017 |
Never did I think I would be able to truly feel part of a book involving a family in Africa. Kingsolver has proved me wrong. A Southern family led by an extremist Baptist preacher becomes missionaries in the Congo, and after the American mission closes, things get tighter and tighter. The family learns quite a bit about itself along the way, until, (to risk sounding cliche) something happens that changes everything for the group. They realize that each of their fates lies in Africa, impossible to escape. ( )
  mlmarks98 | May 13, 2017 |
“We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”

Arrogant and inflexible, Nathan Price is a preacher of the fire and brimstone kind. When he accepts a mission post in the Belgium Congo he imposes on his wife and four daughters a life they are not at all prepared for.

Chapters are narrated by Orleanna and her daughters, Rachel, twins Adah and Leah and Ruth May - the baby of the family. As these women tell their stories the deeply held insecurities and regrets they each carry are revealed, along with the influence these have on the family dynamic. The harsh jungle life compels them to reconsider their choices and beliefs, and their worldviews are reshaped by their experiences in the Congo. And when tragedy strikes they’ll finally be ready to take action.

Kingsolver draws her readers into the lush but unforgiving life of rural Congo when the country is on the verge of declaring independence, and the associated upheaval that followed during the reign of President Mobutu.

The first quarter of The Poisonwood Bible I found quite slow, it takes a while to identify each of the narrative voices and initially each narrator is busy simply observing life in Kilanga. The story really picks up when we start to understand what makes the Price women tick and how they begin adapting to Congolese life. Each of the characters if fully realised, and Kingsolver has a lovely turn of phrase that is evocative and powerful. While the epilogue chapters are not written with the same depth as the rest of the story, they provide a glimpse into the post-Congo lives of these woman and we can see the ripple effects of their experiences.

Broad in scope The Poisonwood Bible follows these women across various borders and through the years. It is a cautionary tale against cultural superiority as well as a thought provoking and moving exploration of the kinds of events that define us and our world views, and how the echoes are felt throughout our lives. ( )
  SouthernKiwi | Apr 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 419 (next | show all)
Kingsolver once wrote that ""The point [of portraying other cultures] is not to emulate other lives, or usurp their wardrobes. The point is to find sense.'' Her effort to make sense of the Congo's tragic struggle for independence is fully realized, richly embroidered, triumphant.
added by Shortride | editNewsweek (Nov 9, 1998)
A writer who casts a preacher as a fool and a villain had best not be preachy. Kingsolver manages not to be, in part because she is a gifted magician of words--her sleight-of-phrase easily distracting a reader who might be on the point of rebellion. Her novel is both powerful and quite simple. It is also angrier and more direct than her earlier books.
added by Shortride | editTime, John Skow (Nov 9, 1998)
The Congo permeates ''The Poisonwood Bible,'' and yet this is a novel that is just as much about America, a portrait, in absentia, of the nation that sent the Prices to save the souls of a people for whom it felt only contempt, people who already, in the words of a more experienced missionary, ''have a world of God's grace in their lives, along with a dose of hardship that can kill a person entirely.''
Although ''The Poisonwood Bible'' takes place in the former Belgian Congo and begins in 1959 and ends in the 1990's, Barbara Kingsolver's powerful new book is actually an old-fashioned 19th-century novel, a Hawthornian tale of sin and redemption and the ''dark necessity'' of history.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Kingsolverprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beard, ElliottDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metz, JulieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyer, HanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mulder, ArjenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Post, MaaikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robertson, DeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spear, GeoffCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
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 figure the two of them living in the same house.
It is true that I do not speak as well as I can think. But that is true of most people, as nearly as I can tell.
While my husband's intentions crystallized as rock salt, and while I preoccupied myself with private survival, the Congo breathed behind the curtain of forest, preparing to roll over us like a river.
Overpopulation has deforested 3/4 of Africa, yielding drought, famine, and the probable extinction of all animals most beloved by children and zoos.... Africa has a thousand ways of cleaning itself. Driver ants, Ebola virus, AIDS, all these are brooms devised by nature to sweep a small clearing very well.
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Book description
Synopsis for the Dutch version:
"Eind jaren vijftig trekt Nathan Price met zijn vrouw Orleanna en hun vier dochters naar een dorp in Kongo om de bevolking tot het Christendom te bekeren. De onderneming is van begin af aan gedoemd te mislukken. Het gezin is niet ingesteld op de harde, primitieve levensomstandigheden, en Nathans fanatisme en onbegrip voor zijn omgeving roepen gevaarlijke reacties over hen af. Als de kerk zijn handen van Nathan af trekt en de onrust in Kongo toeneemt, vlucht Orleanna met haar dochters door het oerwoud naar de bewoonde wereld. De gifhouten bijbel is een meeslepende familiegeschiedenis en een ontnuchterend verslag van de gruwelen van religieus fundamentalisme in een uitgebuit land tussen kolonialisme en onafhankelijkheid."

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.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060786507, Paperback)

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. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:57 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

The tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in post-colonial Africa. An evangelical minister discovers that everything--from garden seeds to Scripture--is transformed on African soil.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 13 descriptions

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