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In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan's intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor's animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member's fortune across a span of more than 30 years.
The Poisonwood Bible is arguably Barbara Kingsolver's most ambitious work, and it reveals both her great strengths and her weaknesses. As Nathan Price's wife and daughters tell their stories in alternating chapters, Kingsolver does a good job of differentiating the voices. But at times they can grate--teenage Rachel's tendency towards precious malapropisms is particularly annoying (students practice their "French congregations"; Nathan's refusal to take his family home is a "tapestry of justice"). More problematic is Kingsolver's tendency to wear her politics on her sleeve; this is particularly evident in the second half of the novel, in which she uses her characters as mouthpieces to explicate the complicated and tragic history of the Belgian Congo.
Despite these weaknesses, Kingsolver's fully realized, three-dimensional characters make The Poisonwood Bible compelling, especially in the first half, when Nathan Price is still at the center of the action. And in her treatment of Africa and the Africans she is at her best, exhibiting the acute perception, moral engagement, and lyrical prose that have made her previous novels so successful. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the audio_download edition.
From Library Journal
-?Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the audio_download edition.
- ASIN : B000QTE9WU
- Publisher : HarperCollins e-books; 1st edition (October 13, 2009)
- Publication date : October 13, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 2370 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 570 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,043 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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My students love this novel. I look forward each time spring semester to rereading a wonderful book and introducing 20 or so undergraduates to Kingsolver’s work. Five stars (one for each of the five Price women).
Top reviews from other countries
Nathan Price, a fiercely obstinate evangelical preacher, uproots his family from their comparatively comfortable life in Georgia and takes them to fulfil his mission in the Belgian Congo and thus expunge his wartime survivor's guilt. He has a wife and four daughters: Rachel, a typical American 16-year old, is utterly dismayed to leave a life of phone calls with friends, angora twin-sets and hair lacquer. Twins, Leah and Adah, are a little younger and very clever. Leah worships her father and would follow him anywhere whereas Adah, silent and mis-shapen from birth, hides her intelligence deep within her. Ruth May, the youngest at five, is of course the most adaptable. Their mother Orleanna has an overwhelmingly difficult struggle to feed, clothe and keep her daughters safe while contending with her domineering husband, a man so single-minded in his pursuit of converts that he cannot see what is happening to his family before his very eyes. But cruellest of all is the country's climate.
Set in 1960 just as Belgium’s control over the Congo is coming to an end, Barbara Kingsolver’s most famous novel explores the subject of occupation and domination. “Poor Africa. No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.” It has sold over 4 million copies and is looked on, deservedly so I believe, as a modern classic. Told in turns by the girls with occasional flashbacks from their mother, it takes a little time to get to know who’s who. But once one has a handle on names and ages, their individual voices are distinctive and very well-drawn, particularly Rachel with her engaging malapropisms (though these were overplayed towards the end). The background politics are deftly interwoven leaving the reader in no doubt about some of the most regrettable aspects of colonialism; Kingsolver wears her socialist heart on her sleeve but her considerable research throughout the book is lightly borne.
Like many reviewers, I infinitely preferred the first two-thirds of this novel but was far less keen on how Kingsolver developed her characters and how she dragged out their outcomes in the final third. Like others, I too felt this could have been handled more satisfyingly as a coda. But the one thing I really could not understand was why Orleanna and her girls, when the one opportunity arose, didn’t escape while they could. Even the perfect Marmee might have high-tailed it out of there.
This novel is about a man that values the word of God more than his family and he decides against advice from others to take his family to the Congo to bring God to the people.
The novel is written in the perspective of the missionary's wife and their 4 children.
When I first started reading this I didn't know what to think. I find it hard to follow when books jump from character to charactet, but I found that the more I read the note I wanted to know what the others were thinking!
Orleanna (may have spelled that wrong) - tried to do the best she could as a mother. I found that I felt for her when she revealed how she met her husband and ended up stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was horrified when she chose one daughter over the other to save, but it could have meant all three may have died, so in her place who knows what one would have done!
Rachel - I couldn't stand Rachel. There was nothing that I liked about her. Selfish from start to finish.
Leah - Leah was my favorite to read about, I felt so badly for her as she grew up listening to her father's preaching and loving the ground he walked on, for her to not receive any love back. I felt bad when her beliefs were stomped into the ground. I'm glad she found love and had a family of her own. She is a very strong character and I could have read about her forever.
Adah - I loved her as much as I loved Leah, as Leah's twin and born with a disability I enjoyed watching her grow into her own person. I liked reading the backwards text and I got so mad when they thought she had been eaten by the lion. I had thought that her point of view was now from her spirit. I was glad it was a misunderstanding! I would have liked to have read more about her adult life and her struggles to overcome her physical boundaries.
Ruth May - Young and lovely. She was like a little ray of sunshine. I pictured the local children taking to her and playing her games. When she got sick with malaria I wanted to send her medicine! Then just as she got well then BAM heart broken!
All the supporting characters were well written as well. I loved Nelson, the way he was with this family that in everyone's eyes shouldn't have been there anyway was amazing. A bit sad that we never see him again after they leave the village.
I would have liked to have seen the view from the father at least once.
I nearly put it down after they fled and the girls were growing up. One minute it's Leah was in a convent, the next somewhere else, the next somewhere else. She has 4 kids, but we don't read much of this. It leaves the story of the family and moves into politics. I would have liked to read how they dealt with it, how Anatole ended up in jail, and how he managed to get released, both times. I finished, but may as well have finished when they left their father to his own devices.
We are told from the beginning that Orleanna has left one of her precious children buried in the African soil, but we don’t find out which one till long into the book, nor how she dies. The first half of the book tells of the day-to-day life of the family as they begin to learn about the ways of the people they have come to live among. Gradually the older girls realise, each in her own way, that the Congolese are not in some kind of spiritual darkness – they have their own culture, beliefs and traditions, as meaningful to them as baptism and the Commandments are to Nathan. The poverty in their life is not of the spirit but of the body, scraping out a mean existence from land the forest is always seeking to reclaim, at the mercy of the rain – too little equals famine, too much, mudslides and destruction. Meanwhile, the white colonialists in the cities live in luxury gained through the exploitation of the Congo’s rich natural resources and its people.
Yes, it is a preaching, message-driven book with much to say about racism, the evils of modern colonialism, the greed of American capitalism, and the perversion of religion into a tool of subjugation and control. But it’s done extremely well and is beautifully written, and (perhaps because I agreed with most of what she was saying) I found I wasn’t irritated by the drip-drip of worthiness running through it. It’s also somewhat plotless – I’d describe it as a family saga except that somehow that always sounds like a rather disparaging term. It follows the girls from childhood into their middle age, so that we see not just what happened to them in the mission but how that period impacted the rest of their lives.
The story is told in the voices of the mother and daughters. Orleanna only appears briefly at the beginning of each section of the book and she is looking back from the perspective of her old age. The girls, however, are telling us the story in real time throughout, in rotating chapters, and Kingsolver does a remarkable job of juggling four distinct voices and personalities, while gradually ageing them through childhood into young adulthood and finally to the more reflective maturity of mid-life. By the end of the book, they are of the age their parents were at the beginning, and so can perhaps understand and forgive more readily than their younger selves could.
Rachel is the eldest, fifteen when the book begins, a typical teenager, more interested in clothes and boys than religion and missions, and is frankly appalled at being dragged to a place where there are no cinemas or dances, no potential boyfriends (since to Rachel black boys certainly don’t count), and no electricity. It’s 1959, so no cell phones or internet – the girls are completely cut off from their former lives. Rachel is not what you’d call studious and she uses words wrongly all the time, which gives a humorous edge to her chapters. But she’s a survivor, protected by the shell of narcissism her prettiness has allowed her to develop.
Ruth May is the youngest, just five when we first meet her, and to me her voice was the least true – she uses a vocabulary and thought processes well beyond her years, I felt. But she’s still fun, and unlike her sisters she’s young enough to adapt quickly to life in the village, befriending the African children and picking up their language easily.
Adah and Leah are twins, aged about fourteen at the start. Adah was brain-damaged at birth, and although highly intelligent she rarely speaks. She thinks oddly too, loving to find palindromes wherever she can and having a particular enjoyment in reading and writing backwards. I found this extremely tedious and was glad that she gradually grew out of it before I reached breaking point – reading backwards, I’ve realised, is not something I enjoy! Leah soon begins to show through as the main voice. Also intelligent, she is observant and interested in the world around her, though she’s still young enough at the beginning to not always understand what she sees.
Later in the book, we see how life plays out for the three surviving daughters. I need to be vague here so as not to give spoilers, but two of the girls make very different lives for themselves in Africa, while the third returns to America, though still carrying her African experiences in her heart. These three lives combined give Kingsolver an opportunity to show the broad history of this part of Africa and its troubled relationship with America over the next three decades or so, and she does it very skilfully so that it remains a personal story rather than sinking into polemics. She has an agenda and she gets it across, but it’s the girls, now women, who think the thoughts and live the lives that show the reader the contrasts, the politics, the aftermath of colonialism – no lectures from the author required.
I thought this was a wonderful book, well deserving all the praise and plaudits it has received. It made me laugh and cry and care and think – isn’t that what all good fiction should do?