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The Poisonwood Bible
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Group Read Discussions > August: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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message 1: by Becky, Moddess (new) - rated it 4 stars

Becky (beckyofthe19and9) | 3408 comments Mod
Please remember to mark all spoilers! :)


Ioana | -11 comments I read this book many, many years ago and loved it, still one of my favorites ever. I will follow this discussion, since I forgot some of the details.


message 3: by Tasha (last edited Aug 03, 2014 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tasha I loved it too! It was a great read. Enjoy!


message 4: by Sherry (new)

Sherry (msjones) | 46 comments This is my favorite Barbara Kingsolver book! Coming from a Southern born-again-Christian background, I'm fascinated by stories involving religion, especially if a preacher or missionary is involved.


message 5: by Zoe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zoe Saadia (zoesaadia) One of my favorites, too. I reread it too many times, but am happy to reread it ones again for this discussion :)
(if I knew how to do that, to start a discussion, I would. But I'll wait for someone to start, then will burst in ;))


Chris | 438 comments I'm glad to hear that so many people loved this book, as I am struggling to get into it...currently on page 84, the beginning of BK 2. So far not a big fan of using the children's voices in narrating the story. Read a little lighter novel earlier this year also set in the Belgian Congo during the same time period that highlighted culture clashes. Perhaps that is affecting my enjoyment... Anyway, hope to be engaged as I move along in the book.


message 7: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (goodreadscomuser_amarama) I'm in the same place as Ioana, having read the book many years ago, know I enjoyed it immensely but can't recall all the details. A very difficult masculine figure, I believe, who...oops no possible spoilers!


message 8: by Becky, Moddess (new) - rated it 4 stars

Becky (beckyofthe19and9) | 3408 comments Mod
LOL Charlene - You can post your thoughts about the character if you like - just use a spoiler tag.

Here's how you would do it - just replace the [ and ] with < and >:

[spoiler] text you want to hide here [/spoiler]


message 9: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (goodreadscomuser_amarama) Thanks Becky! well, now that looks rather anticlimactic but I learned how to create the spoiler alert!


message 10: by Zoe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zoe Saadia (zoesaadia) I actually prefer a regular way of telling a story than a first-person narrative and quite a few of them, but I loved the way the story built itself in this case, through each girl. The mother's voice was the slowest for me, and not very interesting - too much vague philosophical musings in her case ;), but the girls were delicious, all of them, so different but so making the story.
The development of Lia was amazing, my absolutely favorite :)


Alicja (darkwingduckie7) | 172 comments I found it an enjoyable read but the characters seemed a bit stereotypical, especially the father (cue the twirling of evil mustache troupe). It was an interesting way to learn about a different culture though.


Margaret Crampton (cramptonmargaret) | 7993 comments I read this book last year and gave it 5 stars. I seem to remember a great sense of being in Africa and the Forest and River images were well done. I think I must read it again. I have been to Congo Brazzaville. The author has lived in the Congo and speaks from firsthand knowledge I think.


gathering feather organiceden | 4080 comments I've just started this story but love it already! I like the narrative from the different children's perspectives. And the sense of humour that I sense may lighten an otherwise tragic story.
It's interesting to read the attitudes of the culture that the little girls express. It reminds me of those attitudes I remember from the adults around me as a child that I really didn't understand but seemed to share.


message 14: by Jackie (new) - added it

Jackie (thenightowl) | 2249 comments Zoe wrote: "I actually prefer a regular way of telling a story than a first-person narrative and quite a few of them, but I loved the way the story built itself in this case, through each girl. The mother's vo..."

I just started this book yesterday. First time reading Kingsolver. I agree with your post. I love all the chapters with the daughters, but the mother chapter was a bit tedious to read. I'm loving Kingsolver's writing though.


Chris | 438 comments Earlier this year I read Tamar Myers The Witch Doctor's Wife which is also set in the Belgian Congo during this same time period. Ms. Myers was a daughter of a missionary there & spent quite some time there. You could tell how much she loved the country as she unfolded this story. It also deals with culture clash/awareness and exploitation of the native population by the Belgians; just not as heavy=handed as this read. With Poisonwood, I do now appreciate the distinct voices of each child & how they interpret this new world & their place in it. Still slow going though.


message 16: by Zoe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zoe Saadia (zoesaadia) Jackie wrote: "...I love all the chapters with the daughters, but the mother chapter was a bit tedious to reade..."

Jackie, the mother's point of view is not very frequent in the story :)
(she is too subdued to do much for the narration or the plot :))


gathering feather organiceden | 4080 comments Well one things for sure this book is full of bad theology! It's amazing!!


message 18: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (goodreadscomuser_amarama) That's for sure, Doreen...bad, bad theology!


Chris | 438 comments So, I've finished book two & onto Book 3 of which Orleanna's recounting of how she met Nathan & their years together prior to going to the Congo. It is a revelation, although it was not in Book two entitled revelation.
My thoughts thus far....
Orleanna. I do think her narrative is important as she is speaking of what happened to her/family in retrospect in contrast to the girls who recount events in the present from their own unique prospective. And although she has been beaten down both physically, psychologically & emotionally; she still has spine within her. I almost shouted "hurrah!" when on p.163-4 she stands up to the Underdowns & her husband in defense of the Congolese highlighting their exploitation by the Belgian government & people living & working there. She sees what is really happening.
Nathan: I think Kingsolver throws a curve ball at the reader in the beginning of book 3. Just as the loathing for this man was getting intense, you learn of his wartime experience & injury. He comes back a changed man that evolves into the abusive person we know with delusions of grandeur. He certainly needed psychological help that was not available or for that matter really understood in that time period. a combination of survivor's guilt, TBI, PTSD etc?? Does it not make you have an ounce of compassion for this man? It's hard I know, BUT....
At this point in the story, Rachel is still very self-involved, Leah seeks her father's love, Adah is extremely perceptive, she muses on the news about the political turmoil " ...for how else would the poor Congolese know how to hate the Americans & Belgians. After all, we have such white skin. We eat their food in our large house, & throw out the bones. Bones that lie helter-skelter on the grass, from which to tell our fortunes. Why should the Congolese read our doom? After all, we have offered to feed their children to the crocodiles in order for them to know the Kingdom and the Power & the Glory." p. 174, and Ruth May still is able to look at the world through innocent eyes. I love her observations.
I did have to smile when reading Leah's description of kissing on p.149. "Kissing looks too much like dental hygiene if you ask me. If you want to see the stars-which is what Rachel claims it is all about- then why not just go climb up a tree in the dark?" Remember when you kinda felt that way too?


Janet Hecht (janet_hecht) | 30 comments I'm about a 1/3 of the way through book 2. Like others, I had a hard time getting into the book at first. However, I am really enjoying the multiple person perspective. Living in Georgia, I have met a number of Southern Baptists - very different philosophy about God & Jesus than me (I'm a lapsed Catholic, married to a Jew, and did not grow up in the South).

I know a woman who reminds me of Nathan with her views. I avoid talking theology with her if at all possible.


Joyce (sarjon8087) SPOILER ALERT

The last part of this book becomes very political and frankly, anti-American (IMHO).


message 22: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (goodreadscomuser_amarama) I think the difficult part is in separating religion from state, something that from the Puritan beginning in America has not ever happened.
What do others think about this?


message 23: by Zoe (last edited Aug 16, 2014 01:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zoe Saadia (zoesaadia) I agree with Caroline.
I see the motive of the final part of this book more as anti-colonialism, rather than anti-Americanism. What went on around the post-WW2 world was quite terrible (not that prior to WW2 it was any better ;)), and I think Kingsolver is as opposed to the communist interference as to the capitalist one. This entire game of power over poor Congo, and the entire Africa (not to mention the rest of the world) was despicable, a play for the 'influence' and the privilege to go on exploring its natural resources, with both sides of the Cold War playing dirty, switching governments (Lumumba for corrupted Mabutu). I loved how Lia put it when Rachel said that it was a war against communism, and Lia said something along the lines that wow, after 400 years of warring those people finally were explained why they were fighting for :D


message 24: by Jalilah (last edited Aug 17, 2014 11:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jalilah Even though I don't currently have time to re-read, I just want to chime in that I love this book! I remember I kept thinking about it days afterwards and hard a hard time starting anything else right away.
I don't believe that this book is anti-American at all. First of all, one has to consider the time period the book takes place, what was happening in the US, in particular in the South in terms of racial politics in the early 60s.
Second the book definitely is anti-colonialism. That IMO is a different thing altogether.


Margaret Crampton (cramptonmargaret) | 7993 comments Isn't it critical of fundamentalist Christianity rather than Americans?


Chris | 438 comments Margaret wrote: "Isn't it critical of fundamentalist Christianity rather than Americans?"

I think Brother Fowles made that hit when alluding to those who take the WORD literally. " God's word, brought to you by a crew of romantic idealists in a harsh desert culture eons ago, followed by a chain of translators two thousand years long."
And BTW, I loved the Brother Fowles character!


message 27: by Jalilah (last edited Aug 17, 2014 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jalilah Margaret wrote: "Isn't it critical of fundamentalist Christianity rather than Americans?"
Actually I felt it was more critical of the father (and people like him)forcing people to be baptized in the river when there was such a danger of crocodiles. Also that he neglected his own family and their safety for what he considered his mission.


Janet Hecht (janet_hecht) | 30 comments I just finished the book and thought it was wonderful and beautifully written. I agree it is an indictment of the father. I agree that it was political, but I personally think for the period of the time this took place it was only moderately so.
There are a few of authors I stopped reading because they interjected their personal agenda into a work of fiction way far above and beyond the political views of their characters (it really didn't matter if I agreed with their views or not). This definitely did not fall into this camp for me.

I will definitely read this again.


Janet Hecht (janet_hecht) | 30 comments I don't have any problems with controversial/politcal books. I often read books where the characters' views are the polar opposite of mine, and I am perfectly fine with that. In fact, I think it is important to be open to views besides your own. I will read nonfiction books political books written by people who have opposite opinions of mine, Where I personally have an issue is when an author of fiction goes on and on about an issue - almost all of which is tangential to the story line - it ends up detracting from the story for me. I am reading a book of fiction for the story and the characters, including the character's viewpoints. If I am interested in learning more about the author's personal opinion in depth, I will happily go to their website, read their blogs, listen to interviews, read about causes they support, etc.

It actually takes quite a lot for me to feel this way. I read a lot and this has only happened with 3 authors, who all happen to be best selling authors.
If you're a best selling author, you have many other avenues in which you can communicate your political issues, I just don't want a work of fiction to turn into an author's opinion piece. This is a very personal opinion of mine, I may be he exception rather than the rule.

Note: these were also mystery novelists, not writers of historical fiction, where politics and issues may actually be the central theme of the book in he first place.


Christine | 53 comments I loved this book. I enjoyed the first person narration from the POV of all the different family members - their voices were all so distinct. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the Congo, and by the vast cultural differences. The theological contrast between Nathan and Brother Fowles was also very interesting, and their interactions really highlighted what seemed to be Nathan's biggest stumbling block (that he refused to consider or give weight to anyone else's ideas or POV).

Politically speaking, I think the book is definitely anticolonialist. I don't know that it is specifically anti-American across the board, but more that it is critical of American involvement in and manipulation of African politics. I think the book definitely illustrates the stark differences in standard of living that exists between the US and other western countries and much of the rest of the world. I know this is not a new idea for me, but as an American who lives a comfortable lifestyle (by American standards), it definitely serves as a reminder to me to keep things in perspective.


Pedro Puech | 97 comments Charlene wrote: "I think the difficult part is in separating religion from state, something that from the Puritan beginning in America has not ever happened.
What do others think about this?"


Yes, Charlene. State and religion were together in most places, sometime. They were separated in America (North and South)only recently, and in Europe much before that. The subject is still actual. Aren´t many of the events presently occurring in the Middle East a result of mixing state and religion?


Pedro Puech | 97 comments Margaret wrote: "Isn't it critical of fundamentalist Christianity rather than Americans?"
It is both. It is a critic of fundamentalism Christianity (forcing people to be baptized in the river when there were crocodiles). It is a critic of Colonialist and Americans (tending the soil and refusing to make hills as Mama Tataba suggested. "I´ve been tending the soil ever since I could walk behind my father). This refuse to hear local people and their culture has nothing to do with religion; it is pure colonialism.


Chris | 438 comments Finally finished this and WOW, thought it was terrific despite the very slow start (the entire first book). I really enjoyed the multiple points of view. The character development was wonderful. Even though I earlier raised the question of Nathan's possible mental illness or brain injury, I did feel he was the villain in this novel. He brought a narrow, closed mind to a culture that needed an open mind, he was an abusive father & husband both physically & emotionally, he refused to consider his family's safety when political unrest was escalating, and as others have commented, a horrible example of missionary work. Anti-colonialism, yes. But also just a general panning of any arena where a people are oppressed by another is not morally right. Nathan oppressed his family, westerners oppressed & exploited the Congolese. As far as the politics, I felt it definitely was an indictment on the U.S. foreign policy that interfered with another country's government. Unfortunately, it still happens today whether for good or not. This novel is a worthy catalyst for a plethora of discussion topics.


message 34: by Linda (new) - added it

Linda Covella (wwwgoodreadscomlindacovella) | 7 comments I also read this book many many years ago. I remember loving it and that it stuck with me for quite a while. After reading this discussion, I want to reread it. Thanks for all your interesting comments!


Janet Hecht (janet_hecht) | 30 comments There are so many interesting themes in the book. Toward the end (beware: this maybe small spoiler) Adah noted that Nathan is spelled the same backward & forward. That was a really neat observation about Naan.


message 36: by Zoe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zoe Saadia (zoesaadia) Adah is such a character! Extremely strange, extremely interesting...
(still Lia is my favorite, she and Anatole :) )


Jenna (jennaberlett) | 32 comments I'm really enjoying the book - but it is very long! I don't necessarily mean length, but as in it's a slow read. It's not something you can power read or skim your way through. I just finished book 3


message 38: by Kalena (last edited Sep 29, 2014 04:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kalena (bookt2) Loved this book. It is my favorite by Barbara Kingsolver. I will never look at ants the same way again!


Shira (arielk) | 2 comments Loved this book. Great author.


message 40: by Rosalind (new)

Rosalind Minett | 32 comments I must say it wasn't a cosy, curl up by the fire read, but it was richly rewarding. The self-love that drove a man firstly to become a missionary and inflict himself on a distant culture, and to bring along a family without any real means of caring for them, was fascinating in itself. The wider issues do leave a lasting impression and question different aspects of authority. Btw, Nathan is not the same written backwards as forwards.


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