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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Barbara Kingsolver

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18,533None90 (4.22)750
Title:The Poisonwood Bible
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:Harper-flamingo (1998), Edition: Later Printing, Hardcover
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, Africa

Work details

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

1001 (85) 1001 books (88) 20th century (97) Africa (1,193) American (102) American literature (98) Belgian Congo (77) book club (84) Christianity (120) colonialism (138) Congo (505) contemporary fiction (87) family (306) favorite (78) fiction (2,375) historical (59) historical fiction (294) Kingsolver (64) literary fiction (55) literature (123) missionaries (564) novel (292) Oprah's Book Club (82) own (126) read (229) religion (416) sisters (124) to-read (264) unread (114) women (71)
  1. 163
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (paulkid)
    paulkid: Race relations on different continents, told from multiple female perspectives.
  2. 121
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  3. 122
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  4. 100
    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. 102
    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (kraaivrouw)
  6. 70
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  7. 71
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  8. 60
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both about "colonialisms" abuses in the Congo, among other themes.
  9. 72
    Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (allenmichie)
  10. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  11. 51
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  12. 62
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  13. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  14. 30
    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)
  15. 63
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  16. 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)
  17. 10
    Gordimer: Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer (allenmichie)
  18. 10
    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. 10
    My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (wandergirl881)
    wandergirl881: Well researched historical fiction
  20. 21
    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.

(see all 26 recommendations)


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» See also 750 mentions

English (347)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All languages (350)
Showing 1-5 of 347 (next | show all)
Barbara Kingsolver’s, The Poisonwood Bible, is written so beautifully and reads so effortlessly that it surely will be seen as one of fiction’s greatest achievements in the second half of the last century. The story of a missionary zealot going to Africa in 1959 with his wife and four girls in tow to convert Congolese souls is a simple one until suddenly it’s not. Africa and its peoples live by the rules of nature and culture and when the Reverend ignores this through arrogance, pride and stupidity he changes lives forever, just not the ones he wanted. If God does harshly judge the Tribes of Ham rest assured He will do the same ten-fold to those agents of change; the ones that stripped Africa of its natural resources, those that forced alien religious customs, and the greedy warmongering politicians responsible for deaths of untold millions. I once heard Richard Leakey say, “Anthropologically speaking, we are all of African origin”. That seems like a good point of reference to begin moving forward from this dark period of a Continent no longer dark. ( )
  lukespapa | Mar 18, 2014 |
This was an intense, heartfelt, and great book! See my full review at: http://booksandmiscellany.blogspot.com/2008/09/poisonwood-bible.html ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
A great story of one American missionary family in the Belgian Congo in the mid-20th century. Told from the perspective of several different (and entertaining) characters, it is a very well done book. It focuses on a familiar Kingsolver theme of Western culture's mistaken belief in its superiority (in this case, Western culture is represented by Christianity of the Baptist variety). ( )
  the.pen.stealer | Dec 28, 2013 |
There is so much to say about this book. It is excellent. I love the way she puts words together. It is so poetic and says so much. I think this is a book that could be read over and over. I enjoyed her characters. I loved the characters of each of the girls, especially Adah but I liked how she presented Rachel even though she is hard to like. Learning about the history of Africa and politics and how it has impacted Africa was very interesting. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
What a phenomenal novel. I wanted to read this acclaimed fiction for years, and now that I have, I only wish I had read it sooner. The story of a misguided missionary, and the wife and four daughters who are trapped in his skewed vision, is an engrossing read that handles several complicated and controversial topics with great skill.

The mother, Orleanna, opens the tale in the prologue. She is clearly recounting events long after they have passed, reminiscing about her time in Africa and evoking nostalgia and loss, without revealing too much of the story. The next chapter backs up in time to the moment the Price family departs for Africa, and is narrated by Leah. The daughters - Rachel, Leah, Ada, and Ruth May - all hold quite different perspectives on their new adventure in life, and the novel cleverly alternates between points of view to tell the story. Orleanna is only the voice at the beginning of each section, and then the daughters take over. Although Nathan Price is the architect of their lives in Africa, the story never belongs to him. Just as his wife and his daughters are the ones who accept Africa (each in distinctly individual ways), they are also the ones with a voice, and Nathan is just an orator whose words are lost in the air.

Don't feel bad for him - Nathan Price is a horrible man. He is a bully, abusive, and self-righteous. He was always zealous about God, meeting Orleanna as an earnest tent revival pastor, but his war experiences took that excessive faith and twisted it into diabolical applications. Add to that society's view of the inferiority of women and minorities, and you have the makings of a character that is easy to detest. More importantly, Nathan poses a formidable obstacle, a challenge that each of the women must face and try to overcome through much of the story.

He brings his family to Africa because he wants to save the natives, whether they are willing or not. Almost immediately, Nathan and his family realize that their carefully laid plans mean nothing in their new home. Their meeting with the Congolese villagers is wild and frantic, far removed from the holy sermon Nathan had prepared. The seeds that Nathan and Leah bring, hoping to teach the Africans about properly constructed gardens, run riot, proliferate in all the wrong ways, out of control, and do not produce fruit or create gigantic monstrosities of familiar vegetables. What is worse, the church remains embarrassingly empty week after week, and no one will allow Pastor Price to baptize their children in the river.

As their plans unravel, the girls and their mother begin to adapt to their new home, but their father refuses. Even when he learns that the villagers frown on baptism because a little girl was killed by a crocodile in the river not long ago, he remains unshaken. He will do things his way - which he claims is God's way - only. Whatever loyalty he claimed from his family drops away, piece by piece, until it is clear that the women see him as the enemy, just as most of the villagers do. The tension is palpably high as the Price family live almost two years in the small village of Kilanga, with Nathan stubbornly clinging to ideas that clearly won't work, and the women doing their best to scratch out a living without any help from the man. Calamitous events pile on more and more pressure. The Belgian government cedes ownership back to the Congolese people, only to work in secret conspiracy with the United States to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the people's democratically elected leader. These large political events take time to trickle down and impact the Prices. More domestic conflicts weigh heavily, though, such as the "election" Chief Ndu holds in church to oust Jesus, or the night when army ants overrun the village, and everyone must flee or die. Bigger and smaller conflicts combine to lead to one devastating tragedy for the family: the death of one of their own.

This climactic moment has a huge impact on the family, dispersing them and setting a new course for their futures. The tone of the novel shifts here, as well. The reader moves from a narrative that develops the events over a two year period in great detail, with tension rising to unbearable levels, to a broader focus, giving us generalized overviews of the women as they spiral further and further away from their childhood in Kilanga. The next two sections read like an extended denouement. The story checks in with the girls who are soon adults, often jumping over many years in between chapters, focusing on a few important scenes and summarizing the rest of the information. This change in style is intentional, though; first we live through the dramatic year and a half with them, and then we witness how that experience effects the rest of their lives.

I was fully engaged with this story, from the moment I read the prologue until the closing pages. The characters are amazing, and to see an author juggle five different points of view so effectively and authentically is reason enough to pick up this book. Each of the women in the novel are complicated and fully-fleshed people, and we witness their evolution. Despite being from the same family, and experiencing the same huge transformative experiences, they respond to events in ways unique to their personalities. Also, witnessing what happens in Africa from five different perspectives reinforces a theme from the novel: that our world is full of colliding cultural values, and these intersections can be tragic, especially when one or both sides conduct themselves with ignorance and self-righteousness. Historical events may have a much darker side than we like to believe, and we should look at them from other angles, from how people on the other side may see them. The author weaves in many strong motifs, such as the multiple meanings of religion and faith, intricately connected with the meanings and miscommunications in language, our complicity in horrible events because we willfully shut our eyes, the relationships between family and sisters and lovers, and the costs of being a so-called civilized society. This is a complicated (in the best sense of the word) novel.

Aside from the wonderful characters, and the thematic depths of the book, the plot is simply compelling. I was tense while I read about the transplanted Price family. Their lives always felt on the brink of destruction. The way their father treated them could move me to fury, and the political upheavals had me on edge. Also, Kingsolver brings in the historical context with great skill, entwining it with the lives of the characters, and therefore making potentially distant events more accessible to readers. The chapters are generally small, and with the alternation from one daughter to the next, I was eager to begin the next one. With these structural techniques in place, the pace of the story flowed easily. The novel is that wonderful combination of well-crafted and intentional writing with fascinating characters and plot. Kingsolver earned all the praise she received for this quality book. ( )
  nmhale | Nov 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 347 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Kingsolverprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Meyer, HanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mulder, ArjenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Post, MaaikeTranslatorsecondary 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.
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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.
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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)

» see all 11 descriptions

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