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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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19,25137084 (4.2)794
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. 203
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (paulkid)
    paulkid: Race relations on different continents, told from multiple female perspectives.
  2. 152
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 131
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  4. 110
    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. 111
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  6. 112
    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (kraaivrouw)
  7. 80
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  8. 80
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both about "colonialisms" abuses in the Congo, among other themes.
  9. 82
    Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (allenmichie)
  10. 50
    Someone Knows My Name 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. 61
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  13. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  14. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  15. 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)
  16. 63
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  17. 41
    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.
  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. 10
    Gordimer: Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer (allenmichie)

(see all 27 recommendations)


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» See also 794 mentions

English (364)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All languages (367)
Showing 1-5 of 364 (next | show all)
Amazing book. Powerful, poignant, poetic, historical, humorous with a plethora of moral messages interwoven in the narrative. One of those books that you'll always remember and one that should have won an array of awards. ( )
  PaddySheridan | Mar 8, 2015 |
First reading - don't know when; second reading - September 2008; third reading - March 2015. I love this book. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 19, 2015 |
What a sadly depressing, but poignant tale...

The last half of the book was absolutely unnecessary and could have been condensed into a few chapters. But the first half is eerily poetic in many, many ways... ( )
  AuthorLMGreen | Feb 12, 2015 |
One of my Favorite Books! Just when I thought that no other book other then Cutting for Stone could transport me so fully into another culture across miles of water thankfully Barbara Kingsolver wrote this book. An epic tale of a headstrong, unbendable Reverend, his wife and four girls who take a mission assignment to Africa in 1959 when The Congo was ruled by Belgium and at the brink of upheaval. While Nathan Price, the Reverend, assumes he will be the changeable force for Christ in the Congo, it is the Congo that changes the Price Family. This book will transport your heart and mind into the beautiful and deadly Congo where you cannot survive on prayer alone. Each chapter is told by the point of view of one of the four sisters and also by their mother, Orleanna thus giving the women a distinct voice and insight into their struggles. ( )
  sschaller | Jan 25, 2015 |
The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver
c. 1998
ISBN-13: 978-0571298846
New York, NY
546, pages

I think many people, in an effort to be tolerant, accept and praise opinions that are destructive to what they dearly cherish. Examples are books, written as fiction, or not really fiction but passed off as fiction, which express private opinions contradictory to positions held by the people who buy and praise these books. One such example is “The Poisonwood Bible,” written by Barbara Kingsolver. It was a best seller, receiving rave reviews by The Media, and praised by Oprah Winfrey on her TV show. Here is my take on it.

Barbara Kingsolver, a truly gifted writer, shows considerable skill in "The Poisonwood Bible." Her skill with words makes the book easy to read. Her vivid imagery makes, not only the characters, but also the locale, come alive. Her point-of-view through the eyes of a snake at the beginning and end of the book make you imagine that it is you who is witnessing the events. A skilled writer doesn't merely tell a story: there are several layers to a skillfully crafted novel. There's the story itself, in this case, a purely fictional story. There's the setting for the story, in this case the Congo, the real Congo of the 1960's. And there's the overall view of the author, the rationale of why the author wrote the novel. Kingsolver is so skilled in writing that these layers are easily discerned in her book. Having given her credit for her skill, I am now going to explain my problems with this book.

The story of Nathan and Orleanna Price and their four daughters is, as Kingsolver states in her "author's note," "a work of fiction." The main characters do not exist. They are a product of Kingsolver's imagination. One wonders why Kingsolver portrays Nathan Price, an imaginary Baptist preacher, as such a total failure. He is a failure as a husband, a failure as a father, and a failure as a missionary. Nathan accomplishes nothing of value.

Since Nathan is a fictional character created by Kingsolver, he is one hundred percent what Kingsolver wants him to be. That's all right. A novelist is entitled to create fiction. One wonders, though, why Kingsolver didn't portray Price after someone more successful as a missionary, like Dr. Livingston, for example, or Rev. Billy Graham. She must have a reason to characterize Price as she did.

The historical setting of her novel, the Congo of the 1960's, is, as Kingsolver said in her author's note, real. Kingsolver cites many historical events that occurred at that place and time and has her characters draw conclusions from them. She presents a harsh picture of American involvement in the political affairs of the Congo, of the West's exploitation of the Congo, and the non-relevance of Christianity for the Congolese people. Here, in the Congo of the 1960's, she is dealing with the real world, not with a fictional world of her own creation.

To be fair with Kingsolver, no one can extract in a few thousand words, an accurate and objective appraisal of what happened at that time. The author's personal understanding will always slant the appraisal. But Kingsolver, I think, has emphasized some facts and omitted other facts. Whatever her reasons, she has presented a slanted view that, joined with her characterization of Nathan Price, makes one wonder what is her rationale in writing the book.

She mentions how the West, particularly the United States, intervened when the Congo became independent in 1960, when Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister. One of the characters sees newspaper headlines "Soviet plan moves forward in Congo" and (The newspaper) "said Khrushchev wanted to take over the Belgian Congo . . ." One of her characters hears that Eisenhower orders Lumumba's death. One mentions that Dulles sent a telegram to the American embassy in the Congo “. . . to replace the Congolese government at earliest convenience . . ."

Kingsolver's readers would wonder why was the United States so involved in the internal affairs of the Congo. Kingsolver, has one of her characters state that when Lumumba asked Khrushchev to come to the Congo's aid, Lumumba was bluffing." Kingsolver never mentions that in 1959, Khrushchev brought Castro's Cuba into the Soviet circle. We all should remember the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960's because it almost led to nuclear war. I do not condone what the United States did in the Congo, but knowing about Cuba, I can realize the seriousness of Lumumba's bluff.

Lumumba's personal friend, Thomas Kanza, wrote "The Rise and Fall of Patrice Lumumba: Conflict in the Congo" (ISBN: 0-8161-9015-1). In it, he quotes, verbatim, Lumumba's request to Khrushchev and states that "Lumumba was involved in a dangerous, perhaps mortal, struggle; for though the West wanted to save the Congo, it had had enough of him" (of Lumumba). Kingsolver remarks that the Congo was exploited for gold, diamonds, copper, ivory, and slaves.

She didn't mention uranium. Kanza mentions uranium. Uranium, being of strategic importance in the cold war, still doesn't excuse the West, but mention of it would make the West's panic more understandable. Kingsolver writes that "People are angry at the Europeans. They are even hurting women and little children." She then criticizes Belgium for sending troops back into the Congo. Kanza quotes from an UN speech claiming "white women raped before their children's eyes, little white girls raped."

In another book I read that this violence was directed against the families of white officers in the Congolese army. Lumumba did not condone it, but was unable to stop it. Two website articles about Mobutu Sese Seko state that Belgium sent troops to protect its citizens from the violence. Kingsolver's understatement of the degree of violence makes her readers think Belgium had other motives for sending troops. Her omission of pertinent details slants her readers toward her main theme, which I will surmise below.

Kingsolver patterns her book after Scripture. The book is divided into seven main divisions, entitled "Genesis," "Revelation," "The Judges," "Bel and the Serpents," "Song of Three Children," and "The Eyes in the Trees." The eyes in the trees are the eyes of the mamba snake, presented as though they are our eyes. The eyes also make one think of the serpent in the tree in the Garden of Eden.

In spite of the Scriptural titles and the fact that Nathan Price is a Christian missionary, Kingsolver is very critical of Christianity. She makes the blanket statement that "Priests held mass baptisms on the shore and marched their converts onto ships bound for sugar plantations in Brazil, slaves to the higher god of commodity agriculture." She writes "Poor Congo, beautiful bride of men who took her jewels and promised her the kingdom."

These obvious prejudicial statements coupled with the ineptitude of Nathan Price, the Baptist missionary, set against the backdrop of partially described history serves to make the point that the white man's mistreatment of blacks is more that racial: it is white men poisoned with Christian ideology that inspired them to do what they do in nonwhite countries. She sums it up on where she has Leah say "Jesus is poisonwood. Here's to the minister of poisonwood, and here's to his five wives." Leah's father is the minister. The Congolese referred to his wife and four daughters as his five wives.

The book gets its name from a tree in the Congo similar to poison ivy but more noxious. Near the end of the book, Kingsolver states her main view of life: "This is the story I believe in: when God was a child, the Rift Valley cradled a caldron of bare necessities, and out of it walked the first humans, upright on two legs . . . They made the Voodoo, the Earth's oldest religion . . ."

I do not accept any of this. God was never a child. God is unchanging. Human beings did not originate out of a cauldron of bare necessities in the Rift Valley. God created the first humans. Voodoo is not the Earth's oldest religion. The relationship the first humans had with God is the world's oldest religion.

I'm not surprised that so many people applaud Kingsolver's book. It is very well written, but when you penetrate through the sugar coating, you discover that it also contains poison. It advocates opinions that are not true. ( )
  MauriceAWilliams | Jan 19, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 364 (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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Kingsolverprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beard, ElliottDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metz, JulieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyer, HanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mulder, ArjenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Post, MaaikeTranslatorsecondary 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.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:30 -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)

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