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The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.) by…
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The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.) (original 1998; edition 2005)

by Barbara Kingsolver

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19,45938282 (4.2)805
Member:tamarajp
Title:The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005), Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

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. 162
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 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".
  4. 132
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  5. 111
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  6. 90
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both about "colonialisms" abuses in the Congo, among other themes.
  7. 112
    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (kraaivrouw)
  8. 80
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  9. 92
    Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (allenmichie)
  10. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  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 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. 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.
  14. 72
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  15. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  16. 63
    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
    My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (wandergirl881)
    wandergirl881: Well researched historical fiction
  19. 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.
  20. 10
    Gordimer: Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer (allenmichie)

(see all 27 recommendations)

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» See also 805 mentions

English (376)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All languages (379)
Showing 1-5 of 376 (next | show all)
i KNOW there are a bunch of people who rate this book as "great", but IMHO, it's lazy, clumsy, unsubtle and poorly edited. I am astonished that any editor let Kingsolver keep going for those final 189 to 200 pages. I don't mean that careful and judicious editing throughout was needed to compress the narrative (although this wouldn't be a bad idea) - I mean that it should have ended on p.427. There are 616 pages in the edition I read. ( )
  Mimi.Wolske | Aug 20, 2015 |
After slogging through [b:Flight Behavior|13438524|Flight Behavior|Barbara Kingsolver|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352212134s/13438524.jpg|18945788] and feeling like I had wasted valuable time, it's a miracle that I decided to give Kingsolver's most popular book a go. I'm happy to say that most of it was a page turner and one of the best books I've read in awhile. In fact, I thought it was going to be a 5 star read, until Kingsolver dropped the ball on her unbelievable narration talent when the main characters parted ways into adulthood and left me feeling unsatisfied. The transition was not smooth and the stories that followed were too rushed to hold a candle to the slow, deliberate, exquisite detail she laid out in the first 2/3 of the book.

When Baptist minister, turned missionary, Nathan Price, drags his wife and daughters to the Congo to convert the African heathens to Christianity, no one is prepared for the struggles they will face in order to survive the perils of the harsh African environment. Though alliances are made, the community never truly accepts the white family and their strange God. Nathan, a devout man of God, is determined, at the expense of his family's well being, to bring salvation to the people, whether they want it or not. Orleanna, Nathan's wife, learns too late the price that will be paid to remain faithful to a man who loves neither wife nor offspring.

Set against the backdrop of the 1960's conflict to wrestle power away from the white man and restore governing autonomy to the Congolese people, Kingsolver paints a portrait with so much detail that it looks like a photograph. Her narration of the life of a missionary family through the alternating eyes of a wife and four daughters (age 5-16) comes close to writing perfection. I found myself in awe of her ability to capture the smallest detail with beautiful language and bring all of those details into one clear, deliberate, compelling story. The cast of characters was incredibly real, and each one vital to the story's success. I felt like nothing was left behind.

My complaint with the book is that once the plot reaches its peak and the daughters scatter to choose their own destinies, the fine detail that lifts the book into the realm of the greats, peters out. We're left with a spattering of events that covers roughly 30 years. To top that off, the girls' lives, as described, really are not all that believable. It's like Kingsolver got bored of the story, and didn't know where to end it. As it is she went about 150 pages too long. I'll still recommend this book to my book loving friends, but I don't think I can chance another let down from Kingsolver.

( )
  valorrmac | Aug 19, 2015 |
While I did enjoy the beginning of the book for its honest look at what missions are actually like, the character development becomes increasingly more lackluster and flat throughout the book, working in direct contrast with an increasingly complex plot and souring the whole book. Additionally, although the book avoids having a Christian slanted take to missions, it certainly does not manage to tell the neutral story I was hoping for. The author's slant is more and more apparent as the book goes on, and it ends up being quite heavy-handed by the end.

The beginning of the book is excellent. Rather than giving Nathan the voice, all of the story telling is from the point of view of one of the women in his life whom he silences--Orleanna (his wife), Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. It is so powerful to see him through their eyes. To see him striving so hard to maintain control over everyone and simultaneously hear from their thoughts that he can never truly control them. It's empowering and simultaneously heartbreaking.

It's also interesting to see how Nathan's stubbornness and know-it-all nature prevents him from ever truly connecting to or even helping the people in the village he's working in. He thinks his way is always the best, completely missing that he and the villagers could actually trade knowledge and information and all end up better. Because they are, in his mind, backwards and unsaved, he refuses to ever listen to them. His refusal to ever bend causes the mission to break. For instance, he insists on baptism in the river, even though the villagers are afraid to go in the river because of crocodiles. He could have made a compromise, perhaps a tub of water in the church, but he continues to insist on the river, leading the villagers to believe he is out to get their children killed by crocodiles. It's a gentle and subtle message, unlike others in the book, that could be applied to many aspects of many lives. Be willing to listen, grow, and learn.

Once the Congo rebellion starts though, the book begins a slow slide off the rails. The voices of the women change from developing toward a well-rounded presentation of their characters to flat cardboard cut-out versions of their original selves. For instance, Rachel goes from being a femme teenager frustrated with being stuck in the jungle to a cardboard cut-out racist white supremacist. While being a white supremacist is obviously wrong, Rachel isn't well-rounded enough to let her still be human. She is instead a monster, which is a disservice to us all. It is only by seeing how those who seem monstrous are just humans gone wrong can we learn something. The same is true of the rest of the women, although they are all taken in different directions toward different stereotypes. One loses her mental health, another becomes a scholar, etc... But they all become stereotypes rather than older versions of their well-rounded younger selves.

Similarly, although the multiple different perspectives work well for a bunch of different sets of eyes seeing the same situations play out in the same village, when the daughters grow up, the multiple perspectives become instead individual perspectives of their own individual lives with some periodic judgment from one sister to another on how she's choosing to live her life. Instead of giving a richly varied representation of one situation, the reader instead gets a slanted viewpoint of several different situations. It again renders the story flat instead of well-rounded. I found myself thinking many times that the book would have been better if it had just ended at the end of the section that takes part in the daughters' childhoods.

The plot and character shifts both line up with a tone shift that goes from neutrally presenting what occurs in the village to having a decided political slant. It feels as if the point goes from telling a good story to convincing the reader to feel a certain way. I think it's interesting that this slant and the weaker writing go hand-in-hand. It's a good reminder that if you focus on telling a good story, a message may come across on its own anyway, but don't try to force a story to fit a message you want to tell. That hurts the story.

Overall, the beginning of the book is quite strong, featuring an interesting plot and characters but about 2/3 of the way through, it loses its strength, falling into caricature and message pushing that hurt the story as a whole. Recommended to readers who are quite interested in the beginning and wouldn't mind skimming the end.

Check out my full review. (Link will be live August 20, 2015). ( )
  gaialover | Aug 18, 2015 |
Although this is the story of the family of a Baptist missionary in the Congo, the religious and political aspects of this book ended up not mattering to me. I don't doubt they are worth considering, but to my surprise, for me this was instead an accurate description of a particular kind of man and what it is like to live in such a man's family. From this perspective, it could have been set anywhere.

Additionally from this perspective, what is noteworthy about this book is that Orleanna was unable to protect her children and that Nathan's past kept him locked into a cycle which made the needs of his children irrelevant. In the end there was no real redemption for the family love of Nathan- he did what he did and the pain he caused was not erasable. There was pain for lost possibilities of family love but in the end, forgiveness of Nathan on a personal level didn't really happen, even if a more generic forgiveness was possible based on the understanding that Nathan was also a product of his life experiences.

This book said something real to me and left me with a very quiet feeling. It was definitely engaging reading. ( )
  karmiel | Aug 16, 2015 |
The viewpoint cycles chapter-by-chapter through the sisters, punctuated by reflections from the mother. There are a couple of really interesting characters, especially Adah, the hemiplegic girl and her twin.
I could pick a few grumbles, but not enough to tip it off five stars - exceptionally readable, probably the best book I've read all year. ( )
  moopet | Jul 25, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 376 (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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