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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Barbara Kingsolver

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
23,289456102 (4.19)983
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.
Title:The Poisonwood Bible
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:HarperCollins (1998), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Novel, History

Work details

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

  1. 223
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (paulkid)
    paulkid: Race relations on different continents, told from multiple female perspectives.
  2. 172
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (derelicious)
  3. 130
    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. 142
    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth)
  5. 121
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (momofthreewi)
    momofthreewi: Both are rich in character development and centered around unique families.
  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. 82
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  11. 60
    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.
  12. 71
    King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (baobab)
  13. 83
    The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (whirled)
  14. 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)
  15. 83
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (kiwiflowa)
  16. 40
    Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres (literarysarah)
  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
    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 31 recommendations)

1990s (2)
1990s (36)
Africa (29)
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» See also 983 mentions

English (448)  Dutch (3)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (453)
Showing 1-5 of 448 (next | show all)
An all-time favorite. I enjoyed rereading this book 20 years after the first time. Kingsolver's characters are fascinating as always, and her prose is unrivaled. ( )
  klnbennett | Oct 7, 2020 |
Beautifully written epic. The political history of the Congo/Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo is the backdrop to a story about how a family's time there affects them throughout their lives. ( )
  helenar238 | Oct 4, 2020 |
I thought this was an amazing book. It made me think. It changed my mind. It entertained (I laughed, cried, sputtered in anger, etc.). The many different voices were so well done. Great job! ( )
  lasvegasbookie | Aug 20, 2020 |
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an old adage that clearly describes the theme for "The Poisonwood Bible". Beginning in 1959, Southern Baptist minister Nathan Price decides to take his wife and four children to the Belgium Congo for a year of missionary work. His goal is to convert Native African’s to Christianity.

Though Price believes thoroughly in his good intentions, he is misguided and overly idealistic. Perhaps he is just blindly self-righteous and arrogant. You will figure that out for yourself as the story progresses. However, the natives of the remote village of Kilanga are repelled by his mission. They don’t think Jesus will put food on the table, protect them from diseases, or shield them from natural disasters. To further complicate matters, the African government is in turmoil which eventually puts his entire family in danger. Revolution is imminent. Several months after their arrival, the Prices are notified they will no longer receive a stipend from the church and the missionary administrator urges them to immediately return home. Nathan however, is convinced they will be protected mystically by God and insists that they stay.

The first line of the book– written by Mrs. Price long after her return to Georgia is, “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.” Strange? Definitely. Other appropriate adjectives are: horrible, tragic, disturbing, outrageous, and disgusting.

What makes the story particularly interesting is that each of the children take turns narrating: five-year-old Ruth May, the fourteen-year-old twins Leah and Adah, and fifteen-year-old Rachel, with Mrs. Price injecting a few pages throughout. It is clever, funny, frightening, sad, and heartbreaking. The characters in "The Poisonwood Bible" are all fictional, but the details of African history and the events of the 1950s and 60s are very real. Imagine living in a primitive hut without running water or plumbing, no store-bought food, no phone, tv or radio, no car… no roads, just dirt paths leading into the untamed jungle. The Prices arrived totally unprepared in their best clothing carrying useless items like Betty Crocker boxed cake mixes. As fifteen-year old Rachel Price declares, “Man oh man, I thought I had died and gone to hell. But it’s worse than that- I’m alive in hell. It’s enough to give you the weebie-jeebies, believe you me”.

Barbara Kingsolver illustrates the evils of Western Civilization with greedy exploitation and naïve altruistic intruders trying to inflict their own cultural values on the innocent people of Africa. And it becomes abundantly clear that without education, medical attention, infrastructure, technology, and constructive guidance, the common people of Africa are doomed to poverty, stagnant conditions… inconsequentially assigned to oblivion regardless of what God they believe in.

Even the United States did their part in unwanted and self-serving interference, stifling the African’s quest for freedom under the guise of the “good intention” in trying to do everything possible to keep Africa from becoming a communist nation.

"The Poisonwood Bible" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was recommended by Oprah Winfrey for her once popular book club members. There has been controversy surrounding the author’s powerful narrative, primarily because of the portrayal of incompetence and ignorance in the character of the Baptist minister Nathan Price. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Jun 16, 2020 |
the most beautiful place in the world
  victor.k.jacobsson | May 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 448 (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 (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Kingsolverprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beard, ElliottDesignersecondary 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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