Emily May's Reviews > The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
4622890
's review

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, 2013

There's plenty of Goodreads reviewers who felt differently, but I found The Poisonwood Bible to be a very strong and very different piece of historical fiction. It's a slower story than I normally like, something you might want to consider before deciding whether to try this 600+ page exploration of colonialism, postcolonialism and postcolonial attitudes, but I very much enjoyed this incredibly detailed portrait of a family and a society set in the Belgian Congo of 1959. And I, unlike some other readers, didn't see evidence of a narrow-minded agenda in Kingsolver's tale. I didn't really see this as a book about lessons or morals, I saw it as a close look at the reality of this time and the different way it can be perceived depending on your point of view.

I like writers who explore without trying to impart a lesson, who lay out a canvas but let the reader draw their own conclusions from it. This adds depth and a layer of complexity to the novel that allows for that dreaded word - interpretation - to rear its head. But different interpretations make for very interesting conversations. And I love it when reading a book creates a two-way stream of ideas, those of the author and those of the reader, the kind of book that asks me to think instead of proceeding to think for me. Lectures on colonialism? Been there, done that, give me this more thought-provoking method any day.

I particularly like what Tatiana said about the different POVs of the Price family and how each showed a different side and a different attitude to colonialism. From those who saw it as the West's duty to educate and industrialize "savages" and rid them of such damaging practices as genital mutilation and infanticide; to those who feel embarrassed at what the West has done to the postcolonial world and believe in the need for cultural respect. It's complex because there isn't a simple answer to the questions raised by colonialism. Do objective, absolute truths ever exist? Where does culture end and universal human rights begin? Is humanitarian intervention a responsibility or an excuse to impose Western beliefs and values on postcolonial societies? Kingsolver shows the many sides to this issue and lets you draw your own conclusions.

The story is about Nathan Price and his family. Nathan is an evangelical Baptist from Georgia who believes God has sent him on a mission to save - through religious conversion - the "savage" citizens of the Belgian Congo. With him are his wife and four daughters and the novel alternates between each of these five perspectives. I'm not usually a fan of any more than two POVs but this book turned out to be a rare exception. Maybe because Kingsolver spent the necessary time developing each individual character so none of the perspectives felt unnecessary or like filler.

I've spent a lot of time comparing this book to another I read recently - A Thousand Splendid Suns. They are both books about countries and cultures that I was only vaguely familiar with and they are both about a very specific turning point in each country's history. And while they are both good, in my opinion, they are also two very different kinds of novels. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fast-paced, emotional, dramatic page-turner that has you constantly on the edge of your seat. I read it in a single day and wanted to recommend it to every person who hadn't read it. The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand, is a slower, more complex, more demanding work that is even more satisfying when you look back over it and observe its clever details as a whole. It's not for everyone and I'm sure my Empire and Decolonization course helped prepare me somewhat for it.

Ultimately, I really liked how Kingsolver uses the different perspectives to take on the different attitudes to postcolonialism. For me, this is a clever and thought-provoking novel that goes beyond what many other books of its kind have achieved.
274 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Poisonwood Bible.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

May 6, 2012 – Shelved
July 29, 2013 – Started Reading
July 30, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Arah-Leah (new)

Arah-Leah Hay Great review!


Emily May Thank you :)


message 3: by Nandakishore (last edited Aug 07, 2013 09:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nandakishore Varma Great review, Emily. The Lacuna is the only book by Kingsolver that I have read, and I loved it for the slow pace (yes!) and fragmented perspectives. I don't mind novels being slow - I still enjoy test cricket! ;)


Navessa Oh man, I read this book when it first came out and to this day all I can think about when someone mentions it is the lion in that village.

*shudder*

Wonderful review Em ^_^


Emily May @Nandakishore Haha, thank you :)

@Litchick Thanks! I've been meaning to read this for what seems like forever, can't believe I put it off for so long :)


Jocelyne Lebon I read this book a long time ago, too. Probably worth re-reading. I remember really enjoying it, except the last hundred pages or so which were a bit preachy, if I recall correctly.


Dayna Cunningham I loved this book...read it about 9 years ago.


Kelsey Great review! It seems your course on the subject gave you a much more enlightened view on how to approach and appreciate the story behind the story.
This is one of my all time favorite books! I think it's even better the second time around. though, that might be because I had learned by that point to omit reading the last few books, just like jocelyne mentioned.


Meg-Anne I loved this book.

And it is such a slow book to get into - I tried reading it about 3 different times. Once I finally stuck with it and read it I absolutely loved it. everybody I've recommended it too either didn't like it or couldn't get into it. It's one of those books you have to be patient with because the payoff is amazing.


message 10: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Wow, fantastic review. Eloquently expressed. I really like the idea of having a nuanced set of possible interpretations. I'll definitely have to give her a go!


Emily May Thank you! Hope you like it if you do :)


message 12: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich After this review, I'm sure I will!


Tristan I am absolutely with you. I fond this book moving and powerful and easily interpreted (as made clear in my review). I, like you, detected no agenda, but only a keen love of humanity and a desire to have all of humanity love itself equally.


message 14: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Stafiej I can't tell you how much I like this review, and your take on this book. I feel very much the same. Thanks for saying what I could not.


Emily May John wrote: "I can't tell you how much I like this review, and your take on this book. I feel very much the same. Thanks for saying what I could not."

Thank you. I appreciate you saying that!


Connie Rehman I too thought your comments were remarkable and accurate! I wish I could put into words my thoughts the way you so succinctly did!


Emily May Connie wrote: "I too thought your comments were remarkable and accurate! I wish I could put into words my thoughts the way you so succinctly did!"

Thank you, Connie :)


message 18: by Lyn (new)

Lyn Jeenes You said it so well. I fought my way through the first half and almost gave up many times - I'm so glad I didn't. This must be one of the most harrowing, tragic books I've read, yet I think it will stay with me as one of the best books I've read. So worth persevering!


Emily May Lyn wrote: "You said it so well. I fought my way through the first half and almost gave up many times - I'm so glad I didn't. This must be one of the most harrowing, tragic books I've read, yet I think it will..."

So glad you ended up liking it too, Lyn :)


Deri-anne Schniewind Great review! How does one 'follow' you on Great Reads? Is that even possible? As a white South African, reading this book in my 20's during apartheid, it made no impression on me. i didnt get it at all. wondered what it was about. I've just read it again and gone "oh ja (yes), I get it now". And your review helped me see more than I had alone. Thanks for the time and effort you took. I need more recommendations please? :-)


Deri-anne Schniewind Don't worry, found your profile page. Will look up your book shelves and review there.


Emily May Deri-anne wrote: "Great review! How does one 'follow' you on Great Reads? Is that even possible? As a white South African, reading this book in my 20's during apartheid, it made no impression on me. i didnt get it a..."

Thank you so much! There's a "follow reviews" button under the main profile section of each member's page, as well as at the bottom of each review :)


Kaiear Yes! Spot on review. Wish I could have said it half as well.


message 24: by Nina (new)

Nina Blackwell 2/3 wrong with its/it's - what is it with educated, well-read people making this mistake? I don't get it. Nice review though.


Emily May Nina wrote: "2/3 wrong with its/it's - what is it with educated, well-read people making this mistake? I don't get it. Nice review though."

My grammar is terrible in old reviews-- I never did any proofreading because I didn't expect anyone to read them. Its/it's bothers me less than the comma splices, though. I cringe every time I see them.


back to top