Stephen Gallup's Reviews > The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
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Nov 08, 2013

it was ok
Read in December, 2007

I came to this book with The Bean Trees still fresh in my mind, confident that I would enjoy it thoroughly. I found it a very different kind of novel, in many respects (e.g., the alternating voices of multiple narrators, the very different locale (the Belgian Congo instead of the American Southwest), and the author's increasingly intrusive political message). While I adapted to the changes and got through to the end, it was not the enjoyable experience I'd hoped for. I understand that for the author it was a more ambitious undertaking and acknowledge that pushing the limits on one's craft is the right thing to do. However, in such cases there's the risk of attempting more than can be successfully done.

Like The Bean Trees, this one celebrates the virtue of personal loyalty. That aspect of it comes through loud and clear. Drawing characters like Anatole, who are more than plausible, is one of Kingsolver's strengths. Another is her ability to get the most out of our language in telling a story. After reading this, I think Kingsolver should stick with what she does best.

In trying to get my arms around what I dislike about this book, I'll just say it began with mounting frustration over the helplessness of the mother and her daughters in the unspeakable situation created by Rev Price (who, we eventually learn, suffered from an untreated mental illness/brain injury).

On top of this was laid a very biased explanation of African history. Both the UN and the French government concur that the Eisenhower administration did NOT have a hand in the assassination of The Congo's first elected leader, as Kingsolver charges. On the contrary, Lumumba was deposed by a political rival, Kasa-Vubu, and he suffered what likely would have been the other guy's fate had the coup not succeeded. I'm sorry it suits Kingsolver's purposes to imply a parallel between her deranged character Rev. Price and the country he came from as the common source of the turmoil described here, because this fictional work is likely the only input many readers will ever have on the subject. Then, at the end of the book, two of the grown daughters are leading peaceful lives across the borders of Angola and the Republic of Congo, two countries with equally atrocious Marxist rule that the author completely ignores. This is no way for anyone to get their history.

Ok, one other gripe, now that I've gotten myself worked up: One of the Price daughters is nonverbal and presumably suffers from CP or something similar (i.e., congenital brain injury). Once she's grown she gets a little advice from a friend and performs some therapy upon herself and -- voila! -- she's cured. And not only cured but in short order a graduate of medical school. As the parent of an adult with a congenital brain injury, I truly hate to see anyone pretend that such things work out that easily.

In short, I liked Barbara Kingsolver a lot more before I picked up this book.
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Kelley I don't know if I read it incorrectly or what but it said Adah was diagnosed with Hemiplegia when she was a child, but, the doctor (neurologist) friend who gave her that advice said she was misdiagnosed and didn't actually have that congenital brain injury.


Stephen Gallup Hmm. Seems to me hemiplegia would have been a pretty obvious misdiagnosis, since it involves paralysis on one side of the body. Whatever the girl's problem, the ease with which she overcame it struck me as being highly unrealistic. As with the inaccuracies herein regarding Africa, it bothers me to see that in literature because of the mistaken beliefs it implants in people with no other knowledge of the subject. But thanks for taking the time to comment.


Randi Miller Thanks for reiterating my exact thoughts! I had so much hope for this book, but in the end it felt contrived and preachy.


message 2: by Erica (new) - added it

Erica Adah was indeed misdiagnosed, but how that happened in the first place becomes a mystery. The author's use of an unexplained misdiagnosis is her giving credence to Adah's miraculous recovery.

In television and fiction tropes it's called "throwing off the disability," a ploy for using the body as a metaphor for a character's spiritual development. It's Tiny Tim surviving Christmas, run Forrest run, etc.


message 1: by Stephen (last edited Aug 23, 2013 10:44AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Stephen Gallup Or the boy who recovered spontaneously in The Secret Garden.

I don't like it, but that's just me.

At the moment I'm reading another Kingsolver novel and enjoying it much more.


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