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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
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The Poisonwood Bible (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Barbara Kingsolver

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20,20440777 (4.2)847
Member:sandykaypax
Title:The Poisonwood Bible
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:Harper-flamingo (1998), Edition: Later Printing, Hardcover
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:fiction, Africa

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. 162
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 131
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  4. 132
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  5. 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".
  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. 72
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  11. 61
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  12. 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)
  13. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  14. 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.
  15. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  16. 73
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  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
    Swimming in the Congo by Margaret Meyers (FranklyMyDarling)
    FranklyMyDarling: Another book about a young girl, the daughter of missionaries, growing up in the Congo. (Published prior to Poisonwood.)

(see all 28 recommendations)

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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.
  christinejoseph | Jun 28, 2016 |
What a truly amazing book. As a preacher's kid growing up in the 1970's South, I was struck by the difference between my family situation and the Nathan Price sort of missionaries. We had lots of missionary kids living where we lived, usually for a year or two or for a summer, and none, not one, of their fathers were like this crazy white preacher. Maybe it was the difference in the time frame, or the higher level of ecclesiastical education, or even the simple difference in Protestant denominations that caused these differences, but now I understand what people think when I say I am a preacher's kid."

The story of the family, a woman and her four daughters (and thank goodness they were daughters - the trauma on them could easily have multiplied had there been a son or two), who are taken from their Betty Crocker world into the unforgiving Congo wilderness is heart-wrenching. And all too reflective of the worldview of colonial nations. One only has to read the accounts of English living in India to see the parallels between 1959 US and the Congo.

The humility that Nathan refuses to show at the beginning of the novel, whether it be how to plant seeds to why not to baptize at the edge of the river, is hard won. The elders of the villages who wonder why a vote must be done democratically when such a vote does not take into account the ideas and concerns of the dissenters is as real in that time as in any. And the observation of the daughter who looks at grocery shelves and wonders at the huge selection of hair shampoo and cleaning products instead of simple food is still a relevant thought that pops through the surface.

I highly recommend this book for its observations, its writing style, and it story of women's lives. As one reviewer said, there are women who do not leave their Nathan Price's, and this novel does help explain why." ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
The story of a family who moves to the Belgian Congo when the father decides it is his calling to be a missionary there. The story is told through the eyes of his four daughters, with brief chapters from the eyes of his wife. The girls tell of the hardships they encounter and how each one deals with them and how they, with their different personalities, are affected. It is an interesting look into the Belgian Congo during it's fight to become independent, into how life was there, and also what life was like for a missionary family to move from America and try to make a life there. It is a very slow book to read, and I have to admit there was one character in particular whose personality I did not like, and whose chapters I didn't enjoy reading, even though I understand she acted somewhat as a foil for other characters to bring out different thoughts and ideas. I still found it to be interesting and moving - even if I didn't agree with certain things, it was still very powerful to read the story set up by these characters and their lives.
  GretchenLynn | Jun 13, 2016 |
I learned that I can read a very long book and appreciate it. I'm still not interested in epics in general, or most trilogies, or most series - but this was important. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
"Nathan was something that happened to us. " Nathan Price and his wife Oleanna are missionaries in the Belgian Congo (later Zaire). Nathan has brought his family from their comfortable Georgia existence despite having been advised by his church not to go. While Nathan, with complete disregard for the interests and customs of the Congolese, attempts to bring the gospel to heathens, his wife and four daughters struggle to cope with the absence of all of the small comforts to which they were accustomed.

The daughters ranged in age from 5 to 16 at the start of the mission and the story of their lives is told by them (and occasionally by Oleanna, but never by Nathan) in alternating chapters. The narrator of the audio book did a pretty good job of differentiating the voices, although neither the author nor the narrator was very convincing as five year old Ruth May. There were also the teenagers Rachel and the twins Leah and Adah (who was mute and had been damaged at birth).

I was absolutely enthralled by the story of this family in the beginning. The language that the author used and the images she painted were beautiful and perceptive. Nathan was a bully who got worse as he became more and more unhinged. The Congolese were not exactly receptive to his teachings. The strangeness of the environment challenged all of them. They faced tarantulas, snakes, torrential rains, malaria and rivers of ants. The book showed the benevolent arrogance of missionaries who knew nothing about a place yet assumed that they were qualified to tell the people who live there how to live. Their only credentials were their whiteness and their belief in the superiority of their religion. Comparisons were subtly drawn to the treatment of the Congo by Belgium and America.

However, the last half of the book sort of fell off the rails for me. As the girls matured, Adah and especially Leah became politicized and all subtlety was lost as the book became overtly pedantic about the history of the Congo. The only character I cared to read about in the last half of the book was Rachel, who reminded me of one of the vain, oblivious survivors in an Edith Wharton novel. I found her entertaining but I wouldn't want to spend any time with either Adah or Leah.

Overall, I liked this book a lot, and if the second half had been as good as the first, I would have loved it. ( )
1 vote fhudnell | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 402 (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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For Frances
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Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
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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 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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