Christina's Reviews > The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
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I've been avoiding this book for quite some time. A evangelical Baptist takes his family to the Congo to be a missionary ... I thought it would be preachy and I just really didn't want to spend my time reading a book trying to convert me to anything.
But I was wrong. I came to this book with very low expectations and it got me from page 1. I was drawn in and loved the book for most of it.
Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist preacher, takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo to spread the light in the darkest of Africa. He is not a man to listen to anybody's advice and so he leaves for the Congo because he wants to - even though he is advised against it by the church. Price is a very decisive determined man and his wife and daughters live under his rule and have nothing to say when they arrive in Africa - very badly prepared with the cake mixes and similar stuff they deemed necessary to their survival in the jungle.
But Africa is a special place. It changes people and the hardship the family endures facing life in a village not especially interested in their American Christianity and in a country trying to absolve itself of the Belgian domination and becoming a independent nation, changes the children and the mother while the hardships make the father even more strong-willed and unbending.
Most of the book builds up to a tragedy. We know from early on that one of the four girls will die in Africa but which one and how is revealed quite late in the book. I did try to guess which one it would be - but couldn't.
The girls are very different. Rachel, the oldest, is a teenager with focus on her looks and she hates Africa. One of the twins, Leah, is still trying to come to term with being the cause of her twin sister Adah's handicaps, sustained in the womb, while experiencing friendship and first love in Africa and fighting against the traditional gender roles. Adah keeps to herself and is in some ways the most rebellious of the girls but because of her non-speaking ways, she keeps out of trouble for the most of the time. Somehow she escapes her parents radar a lot of the time and therefore she's able to do things that she would not be allowed if they knew. And finally, Ruth May, the youngest, only five year old when they arrive in Africa and a beautiful resilient little girl with all the energy and spirit of her age.
The book is divided into seven parts. For six of these, the first part of them are seen from the mother's point of view and then we jump between the four girls and experiencing it from each of their unique points of view, we get different accounts of the same things and get to know these girls really well. Kingsolver nails the differences between the girls really well and I appreciate this way of telling the story of both a family and a nation falling apart.
But Africa touch the lives of the entire family and their lives are forever changed by what they experienced in Africa and what happened to one of the girls.
Some parts of the book especially stayed with me after reading it. The clash between the native belief system and the modern American Christianity was interesting and how the villagers constantly watched to see if the American family did better. Whoever was better off when crisis struck, had the most believers. A very disturbing scene is the big hunt where the villagers light a fire around an area, thereby trapping all the animals inside and letting them choose between trying to escape the fire and then being shot (and skinned before they stop kicking in some instances) or being burned alive, as some of the female monkeys chose to do with their babies. This was a heart-breaking scene to me - and made even more so by the aftermath. Also, the night of the ants where the village is 'attacked' by ants that eat everything in their way so the entire village have to escape and the mother chooses to save the youngest girl while letting the disabled twin fight for herself is very illuminating for each character's sense of self and their place in the bigger scheme.
However - towards the end we follow the girls as they are growing up and getting older (since the book spans three decades). But these later parts didn't quite feel as interesting and intimate as the first (and biggest) part of the book spend with the family in the first couple of years in Africa - probably because the jumps in time are too big. If this had been on level with the first huge chunk of the book, it would easily have been a five star read. But since I slowly lost interest towards the end, I will settle for a four star rating.
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Reading Progress

11/21/2009 page 5
0.81% "Been avoiding this one because of it's protagonists being an evangelical Baptist family going on a mission to Belgian Congo. Not my thing."
11/22/2009 page 58
9.45% "So far my low expectations have been shamed. I like it a lot so far - I especially like the 4 girls each tell the story in their own voice."
11/24/2009 page 97
15.8% "I think she manages to write from each sister's perspective rather well so each girl has a unique voice. More than happy to be reading this."
11/24/2009 page 124
20.2% "Each part of the book starts with the mother looking back on their time in Africa and then we go back and hear the story from the girls."
11/27/2009 page 260
42.35% "I'm enjoying this book so much. How different the 4 sisters come across, for instance, is really impressive."
11/29/2009 page 298
48.53% "As the white man looses control over the Congo, so the father looses control over his family. They are starting to question him."
11/30/2009 page 357
58.14% "I think the night with the ants will turn out to be incredible important for every character's understanding of his/her own self."
12/01/2009 page 390
63.52% "The big climax is drawing near ..."
12/02/2009 page 405
65.96% "The hunt ... Disgusting scene. They light a fire in a circle and then all the animals are burned alive or killed while fleeing in panic."
12/04/2009 page 461
75.08% "Well, finally we find out who of the sisters die in Africa ..."
12/06/2009 page 563
91.69% "Almost done. The last part - with the girls all grown up - is not quite as good as the rest of the book."

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Christina, Great review. I might bump this up a bit.


Christina Thanks Lisa! I loved the first 3/4 or so - but the last part wasn't quite as good. But I think you'll like it a lot!


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