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The Poisonwood Bible (1998)

by Barbara Kingsolver

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
26,311501118 (4.18)1077
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. 235
    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
    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (allenmichie)
  8. 90
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both about "colonialisms" abuses in the Congo, among other themes.
  9. 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.
  10. 102
    Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (allenmichie)
  11. 113
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled, Iudita)
    Iudita: Similar themes
  12. 92
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  13. 103
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  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 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. 20
    My Notorious Life by Kate Manning (wandergirl881)
    wandergirl881: Well researched historical fiction

(see all 32 recommendations)

1990s (32)
Africa (7)
AP Lit (126)
hopes (27)

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» See also 1077 mentions

English (490)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (2)  French (1)  All languages (498)
Showing 1-5 of 490 (next | show all)
This book has sat on my shelves for some twenty years without my getting round to it. I tend to shy away from 600 pages, and from 'must reads'. In the event, I demolished it in under two days. This family saga is told from the perspectives of the wife, and the four daughters of a focused, unforgiving American evangelical pastor, Nathan Price. It paints an extraordinary picture of life in an isolated and (from the family's original point of view) primitive African community in the then Belgian Congo. Kingsolver immerses us in the detail of their first difficult year of hardship, then walks us slightly more briskly forward through 30 years of strife, conflict and post-colonialism. The family members are believably from the same stock, but very different one from another, which gives the opportunity to see several sides of the same history. This book is brilliantly realised, well told, and paints a picture of a conflict which was never far from the news in my childhood, but of which I knew little and understood less. It's also a picture of what happens when issues round religion, politics and race relations are unable to find compromise and mutual understanding. A powerful and ambitious tale. ( )
  Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
This book is great and I'm glad I FINALLY got around to reading it. Docking one star (probably unfairly) because it took me forever to read the whole thing. I don't understand why because I always enjoyed the time I spent within it's pages but it seemed like it might go on forever.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the POV of the five Price women who come to Africa as a missionary family in the mid-50s. Mostly, we are with the daughters, and they each have a VERY distinctive manor about them that makes it very simple to keep things straight between them. The writing is beautiful and I learned quite a bit about African history and I'm reminded about how little I really know about the world.

( )
  hmonkeyreads | Jan 25, 2024 |
Absorbing, horrifying story of a man who sacrifices his wife and four daughters to his insatiable need for a redemption he will never find. I was heartbroken for the mother who spends the rest of her life begging her youngest daughter for forgiveness. ( )
  wilkinchristie | Jan 13, 2024 |
This book is beautifully written and each of the characters has a very distictive voice. THe sroty was facinating, and I loved the texture of the jungle and the lives of these people. I did get tired of it near the end, very little happened in the last 1/3. ( )
  mslibrarynerd | Jan 13, 2024 |
Review: The Poison Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 3* 09/18/2023

This is a fictional story about Nathan Price a Christian Missionary who took Orleanna, his wife, and his four daughters, Rachel, the twins Leah and Adah, and their youngest Ruth to the Congo in 1959. He is on an assignment to try and convert all the Congolese to Christianity to save their souls. Nathan could have been more friendly to the people in the village they were staying at. He also treated his family unkindly, especially when there were no modern elements which he never mentioned to his family. He couldn't understand why the people who were of African descent were scared of the narrow river when he wanted them to get in the river to baptize them while there were crocodiles in the water. He wasn't a friendly character in the story.
The people were forbidden to be educated but still managed to survive the environment within their community. Kingsolver organized the flow of the story well. I was three-fourths through the book and I started getting bored. It felt like too many things were going on at the same time. I did learn some things about the Congo that I never knew. The Price family became victims of life itself even the horrible father. The mother is the only one who changed her life. I thought it was a sad story. ( )
  Juan-banjo | Dec 14, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 490 (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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