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The Poisonwood Bible (1998)

by Barbara Kingsolver

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
25,368495111 (4.19)1039
The drama of a U.S. missionary family in Africa during a war of decolonization. At its center is Nathan Price, a self-righteous Baptist minister who establishes a mission in a village in 1959 Belgian Congo. The resulting clash of cultures is seen through the eyes of his wife and his four daughters.
  1. 234
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (paulkid)
    paulkid: Race relations on different continents, told from multiple female perspectives.
  2. 183
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 140
    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. 152
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  5. 131
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  6. 132
    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. 90
    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.
  9. 90
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  10. 102
    Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (allenmichie)
  11. 103
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  12. 92
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  13. 103
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  14. 71
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  15. 50
    The Book of Negroes 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)
  16. 40
    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. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  18. 30
    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (sweetbug)
    sweetbug: Similar themes of conflict between two cultures, Westerners living and working in an exotic and dangerous land, and parents / surrogate parents protecting (or not) their children from harm.
  19. 20
    The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (charl08)
  20. 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.

(see all 32 recommendations)

1990s (32)
Africa (7)
hopes (27)
AP Lit (125)

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English (480)  Dutch (3)  Catalan (2)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  All languages (488)
Showing 1-5 of 480 (next | show all)
The best novel I’ve read in years! I so enjoyed hearing the story through the eyes of the children and wife/mother. I was also thankful that I didn’t have to actually hear Rev. Price’s voice. ( )
  kaulsu | Jun 6, 2023 |
469 ( )
  freixas | Mar 31, 2023 |
1.5 Stars ( )
  Mrs_Tapsell_Bookzone | Feb 14, 2023 |
This is not an easy read. It’s the tragic tale of one family’s desperate decline and disintegration, all because of one man’s bull-headed refusal to bend his rigid principles or admit failure. Though Nathan fills many of the pages, all that we see of him is second-hand, through the eyes of his wife and four daughters (who range from 5 to 16). I wanted to hate him, or at least despise him. I finally walked away with a mere strong dislike of this character, since once all is revealed, I could at least understand why he did the things he did. An excellent writer can make the reader empathize to some degree with the most despicable antagonist, and Kingsolver possesses this skill in spades.

While the story is focused on how the characters are affected by all that follows their arrival in the Congo, and while that was certainly a riveting tale, I found myself just as caught up in the cultural clash, and the difficulty either culture demonstrated in seeing the other’s point of view. Yet on every page, I could see the tiny and gradual changes taking over each of the daughters. Their observances and the way each reacted to their imposed new lifestyle revealed as much about their individual personalities as did the author’s descriptions of them. The reactions of the villagers to the Price family’s ways was just as fascinating to me; I tried to put myself in their situation and imagine how I would react if someone came to my hometown and set their minds to change everything about my world: how I and my neighbors dress, how we raise our children, how we cook our meals, how we speak to God, which God we speak to, how we hunt or garden, and all the rest.

At every level, Poisonwood Bible is a tale of contrasts, from the obvious religious differences to the fact that the village men all had multiple wives, even unexpected things like the differences between the Price daughters and the village children; the Price girls thought for sure that the Congolese children, with their swollen bellies, couldn’t possibly be hungry. It never enters their mind to consider that the children aren’t overfed but are infested with parasites. It is only years of experience that make the Price daughters (and their mother) come to an understanding with Africa and the lasting changes it has wrought in their lives.

The Poisonwood Bible isn’t a book I can fully describe. It must be experienced to fully see its depth and breadth. Early on, I almost put it down because I found the overly Caucasian judgments of the Price daughters’ African neighbors, as well as some of the terminology, uncomfortable; but I reminded myself that this tale begins in 1959. Much of what the characters say and think is typical of that era, not to mention in keeping with their Southern Baptist upbringing. Later, of course, the tables are turned and it is not necessarily a good thing to have “white” skin in the Congo. After a certain point, I no longer wanted to put it down and never finish the story. I was driven to know how their individual lives turned out.

I will reiterate, though, that it is not an easy read. While you may be able to predict a few details, I promise you that turning the pages in The Poisonwood Bible will lead you down avenues you never expected. Highly recommended for readers who love a tale of family or political/cultural drama, or tales of tragedy and redemption. ( )
  DremaDeoraich | Jan 30, 2023 |
I loved the different voices of the narrators. The writing is spectacular and the story gripping. ( )
  JudyGibson | Jan 26, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 480 (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 (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kingsolver, Barbaraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ahokas, JuhaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alou, DamiánTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ballester, AuroraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beard, ElliottDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Belleteste, GuillemetteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frank-Strauss, Anne R.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klinge, BenteTranslatorsecondary 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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For Frances
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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.
Back home we have the most glorious garden each and every summer, so it's only natural that my father thought to bring over seeds in his pockets: Kentucky Wonder beans, crookneck and patty-pan squash, Big Boy tomatoes. He planned to make a demonstration garden, from which we'd gather a harvest for our table and also supply food and seeds to the villagers. It was to be our first African miracle: an infinite chain of benevolence rising from these small, crackling seed packets, stretching out from our garden into a circle of other gardens, flowing outward across the Congo like ripples from a rock dropped in a pond.... Father started clearing a pot of ground out of the jungle's edge near our house, and packing off rows.... He beat down a square of tall grass and wild pink flowers ... Then he bent over and began to rip out long handfuls of grass with quick, energetic jerks as though tearing out the hair of the world.... "Leah," he enquired, "why do you think the Lord gave us seeds to grow, instead of having our dinner just spring up out there on the ground like a bunch of field rocks? Because the Lord helps those that help themselves."
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Wikipedia in English (2)

The drama of a U.S. missionary family in Africa during a war of decolonization. At its center is Nathan Price, a self-righteous Baptist minister who establishes a mission in a village in 1959 Belgian Congo. The resulting clash of cultures is seen through the eyes of his wife and his four daughters.

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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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