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Showing 1-10 of 126 reviews(1 star). Show all reviews
on October 20, 2001
Reading other reviewers celebrating all they "learned" about Africa from this work of fiction is distressing. I lived in the region for 8 years and find this book inaccurate in many ways. Perhaps Ms. Kingsolver shares the attitude that Farley Mowat expressed when he said that he "never lets facts get in the way of the truth". Kingsolver's relativist "truth" is politically leftist and anti-religious, and she is apparently, like Mowat, not prepared to let facts get in her way.
Just to name a few points:
-The rebels that are portrayed kindly in this story, presumably because they were anti-western and anti-capitalist, were in truth bloodthirsty terrorists of the worst kind. They killed the father of a friend of mine, a doctor in Stanleyville (Kisangani) for no reason, in cold blood. They murdered thousands of their own countrymen as well.
-The migrations of the army ants are not at like they are described in this book.
-To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, "I knew missionaries in Congo. Missionaries in Congo were friends of mine. Ms. Kingsolver, your characters are NOT missionaries in Congo." The main anti-hero in this story may or may not be plausible as a fictional character, but I am certain that no real character even remotely like him ever made it to Congo. What is the sense of talking about "learning" anything true about Africa from a fantasy?
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on July 4, 1999
I have to say, first off, that I loved Kingsolver's earlier novels. But this diatribe, masquerading as a novel, left me cold and bored. I didn't think the characters ever evolved--instead, they came upon right and wrong answers in completely predictable ways. Yes, the politic ideology is mine. But I don't want to have it parading around in the guise of a story. I felt Kingsolver's complete disinterest in Reverend Price was disheartening, at best. He was no more than a pasteboard Bogeyman. And her grasp of Baptist religious rites was woefully inadequate. Why would a Baptist minister quote the Apocrypha? And why would he be interested in baptizing children? The lower churches, like the Baptists, consider baptizing only an external mark of an internal conversion--and therefore unnecessary for "eternal life." Furthermore, the last three books of her novel, once the Rev. Price is missing, devolve into a hideous set of "tellings." I am constantly told "what has happened," not allowed to experience it as an upfront narrative. I simply felt that Kingsolver may have believed she has outgrown the need for a good editor. Someone needed to bring a sharp pair of pruning sheers and a good sense of narrative development to the project.
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VINE VOICEon January 6, 2013
I'm not normally given to reading fiction as so often it's poorly done and as a historian I have pretty high standards for historical fiction. I was recommended "Poisonwood Bible" as it is somewhat along the lines of historical fiction and it was my introduction to Barbara Kingsolver outside of film adaptations such as Mosquito Coast and others. As it is the first book by her I've read I'm not certain if this is indicative of her style of writing, if this was something of a deviation or what. I hate to dismiss an author based on just one book, but having read "Poisonwood Bible" I can honestly say I have no interest in reading anything else she has written or will come to write. Reading through it so many adjectives came to mind and none of them complimentary. In her introduction Kingsolver apologizes for having to read up on the history of the Congo/Zaire, admitting she didn't know much about it and was thankful for those more knowledgeable about it than her. At that point as her editor I would have said "STOP!" Why on earth would you tackle something you don't know much about, don't fully comprehend, and have no connection to? As a historian I can speak to how immersed GOOD writers get with their subject. They throw themselves fully into the subject. What Kingsolver produced here is dilettantish to say the least. This novel is the story of a Baptist family who travels to the Congo just as the beginning of that country's crisis in 1960. Kingsolver's characters are crude caricatures; the fire-and brimstone Baptist minister Nathan Price, his dutiful yet detached wife Orleanna, and their four daughters. All except Nathan take turns narrating the story of their lives, yet throughout it was the same overwrought purple prose going into laborious descriptions of their surroundings and unfolding events that screamed out for editing and dialing things back. The narration belies the supposed differences of the characters, instead pointing out the flaws in Kingsolver's writing. If she's writing from a young child's perspective then why does it sound like she's far more mature or writing from many years in the future? The differences between the narration by mother and her daughters is so wildly different that it seems that Kingsolver is almost overcompensating to make them sound unique and varied. What results comes off reads as a poorly written autobiography. If you're expecting keen character development and insight into the human condition this isn't the place! The characters are un-relatable and unlikable to put it mildly. When layered on top of the horrid narration it makes for an unreadable stew, though certainly many people have enjoyed "Poisonwood Bible". I am not one of them.

Kingsolver seems to be falling into a trope for popular fiction writers like Jonathan Franzen, who I likewise found tedious and pretentious. Take un-relatable and unlikable characters, put them in a contentious setting, and have them spout crypto-profound musings on their condition and their world as events unfold. Then grind the reader down over several hundred pages as you plod on to a rather predictable formulaic conclusion. I had hated the aforementioned Franzen's ponderous Freedom by Jonathan Franzen as the worst fiction I'd read until I picked up "Poisonwood Bible", which now deservedly is the worst thing I've ever read. It's clear that Kingsolver wants to make a grand and profound statement on the horrors the West has inflicted on the Congo/Zaire over many decades; from Belgian colonialism to the present ongoing conflicts there. She could have done so more effectively and there are FAR better books on the subject such as King Leopold's Ghost and Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa that you SHOULD read instead of this half-baked hash.
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on March 24, 2000
The Poisonwood bible, set in the troubled Congo of the 1960s and spanning thirty-five years, is the story of fire-and-brimstone Baptist minister, Nathan Price, his wife, the emotinally distant Orleanna and their four daughters, the self-indulgent Rachel, the tomboy Leah and her bitter and twisted twin Adah, and the curious and adventurous Ruth May. The story is told from the point-of-view of the women in the family. It encompasses a brilliant and fascinating premise that was almost completey destroyed with poor execution and storytelling. From the opening sentence, all credibility and belief in the characters is destroyed. Orleanna, not educated beyond high school, who calls herself simply, "a housewife from Georgia," speaks like a Georgia housewife yet thinks in prose that would rival the musings of Michael Ondaatje. Rachel is even worse. Attempts to portray her as not-too-smart fail on all counts. Her malaproprisms quickly become tiresome and grating. What's worse, if accepted, they would reveal a brilliant mind rather than one that was lacking. Ruth May, an otherwise engaging five-year-old is also troublesome. At times her thoughts seem to be those of a typical five-year-old; at other times she sounds more like thirty. (At one point, Ruth May says, "Rachel was Miss Priss, now she's a freak of nature." I have never met any five-year-old that could understand, much less make, that comparison.) Each voice is so overly distinctive that the entire book feels forced and contrived, two elements really good prose always avoids. The author also never lets us forget we are reading a book. This problem begins immediately when Ruth May says, "My name is Ruth May." This is almost as bad as the archaic, "Dear Reader." There are other problems with the book, the most evident being Adah's deus ex machina "miraculous" cure and the fact that the narration continues long after the story is really over. I was going to give this book three stars because the events in the lives of the Price family are interesting and well worth telling, but upon further reflection I decided to reduce my rating to one star instead. I just couldn't get past all the mistakes.
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on June 21, 2000
Reading this book, I cannot understand how so many people could have recommended it to me--I even BOUGHT this one b/c everybody told me it was so good...well, I barely dragged myself through it. I felt absolutely no attachment to any of the characters (maybe I was slightly interested in Adah, but even that was minimal) and found them to be flat and bland at best. Moreover, having grown up in Africa (Zaire, in fact, along with parts of West Africa), I found that Kingsolver completely failed to capture the soul of Africa and what it feels like to grow up there. As a deep, meaningful novel, I think it missed the boat; if her point was to do a political analysis, then she should have spared us the Prices....
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on June 16, 2015
I hardly believe that this is the way it had been designed originally although I did try to convince myself to believe the fact it could. What is going on here?
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on March 22, 2000
If Barbara Kingslover set out to educate Americans about the history and politics of the Congo then I would say she had limited success. (Although most Americans know very little of the history and politics of the Congo, so any information would be considered an education.) If she set out to write a literary novel I would say she failed miserably.
This book was didactic, overwritten, and way too long. Most of the characters were flat, and all were unsympathetic. Two of the characters (Orleana the mother and Leah one of the daughters) were really only used as mouthpieces for Kingslover's political views about the Congo, nee Zaire. Because this book is overwritten few people will be interested enough to stick with it (several other friends of mine have said they started it but gave up) long enough to even learn much about the Congo, so in some respects I think that she may have even failed in educating her audience.
This book was theme driven; and there were plenty of them--religion, politics, family, but the main theme was oppression. Oppression of the family by the misguided religious zealot father; oppression of the people in the Congo by rich and powerful countries like America; all good and worthy themes. However, Kingslover could not resist beating us over the head with these themes, and spelling every single thing out for us over and over again. I think her need for justice in the Congo got the best of her writing style--she wanted to make damn sure there was no misunderstanding on what she thought had gone wrong in the Congo and who's fault it was. She used no literary allusion (other than the bible-and even that she pretty much spelled out for us), and no symbolism other than the one pet parrot they owned but the father kicked out of the house and it eventually died because it couldn't live in the wild anymore. Everything else she told us straight up, so there was no room for misinterpretation is my guess. But part of good literature is letting the reader figure out the the themes and symbolism themselves.
I would NOT recommend this book, but think it does have some potential to be made into a big Hollywood movie. Hollywood loves this kind of pseudo literary, "political message" movie. I'm sure they could condense this tome down to 90 minutes of celluloid and it might actually pique some interest in an audience.
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on September 20, 2001
I loved Animal Dreams, but this book comes across as a mean-spirited tirade against missionaries and the Bible.
This book is a story of a missionary family, and their inability to fit into the culture of Africa... or rather, mold African culture to fit them. This is a potentially rich basis for a book. The story goes aground, however, in it's unrelenting ridicule of the father, who is a very poorly developed character in the book. Kingsolver adopts the device of telling each story from the point-of-view of one of the family members, with the exception of the missionary father. By ommitting the father's perspective, she avoids having to explicate the most interesting part of this story: the struggle of imperfect people to act on what they see as spiritual truth. Graham Greene wrote masterfully on this topic in 'The Power and the Glory'. If the father's perspective had been given, then we might have some sympathy with his personal pain and humanity, which is clearly not the author's political objective with this book.
Ultimately, Kingsolver attempts too much in this book. She derides American cultural imperialism, capitalism, the Bible and traditional Christian traditions, & European and American political exploitation of Africa from Angola to South Africa. All this heavy-handed lecturing weighs down the story. Very little attempt is made to balance the narrative by introducing fully developed, "good" white people. And after 500+ pages, the story ends with all the major characters cynical and disillusioned (or dead).
Hopefully most readers will realize that most missionary men do not beat their wives, or have contempt for the people they serve. This isn't true today, and I don't believe it was generally true in 1960 either.
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on January 4, 2001
I picked up The Poisonwood Bible hoping that it would be a good old-fashioned historical epic. While it started out rich and interesting, the five-person narration soon grew wearying. The characters are not fully developed at all, and except for their annoying tics, seem to blend into one another. We never figure out what motivates them, why they move in such different paths.
When the novel begins to stretch out over the span of decades, it stretches thin. With all the political commentary, it becomes a mere "and then this happened." While I believe that there is room for political commentary in novels, I don't believe it should be there at the expense of a sound structure, coherent storyline, likable and realistic characters. I learned only a little about Africa because it was framed in such long, factual paragraphs which read like news broadcasts. I wanted more from this novel. I wanted to understand how this family found a way to integrate their African experiences into their personalities even after their horrible ordeals. Instead, I was mostly glad that they managed to escape. In this book, Africa reverted back the stereotypical "dark continent" or Conrad's novels...
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on January 17, 2015
Did not like this book. It's weird and left me feeling weird. Having grown up as the child of missionary parents, this seemed way "off" to me since it didn't remotely resemble my own experience.
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