Saturday Read: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

I feel like I’ve been picking dull books lately, so, like last week with “The Curious Incident…”, I’m taking another highly recommended book for a test drive. My mom has been raving about “The Poisonwood Bible” for years and even though we don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to literature, I decided to finally cave.

The Poisonwood Bible” starts out as the Price family of Bethlehem, Georgia arrive in the Belgium Congo in 1959, as missionaries. Nathan Price, a patriarch in every sense of the word, believes that his no-nonsense form of Christianity is just what the Congo needs, so he moves his family to a remote fly-in village. His family consists of his passive wife, Orleanna, and four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah & Ruth May. They are all good Southern girls, but they have no idea what to expect in Africa and come drastically unprepared, literally and figuratively. One of my favorite parts of the book, which illustrates this point so well, is when Mrs. Price decides to make a Betty Crocker cake for her daughter’s 16th birthday. She opens the cupboard, only to find that the Congolese weather has mutated the mix beyond use. The family lives through their time in Africa, learning of the Congo rebellion against their Belgium rulers, but the book also continues on for another 30 years. Each character narrates their own unique chapters and lives, but they all have in common their experience in Africa.

Kingsolver has really created a wonderful novel. I learned so much about Africa in the ’50s and ’60s and also missionary work, two subjects I had zero knowledge of. She seamlessly integrates the political aspects into the actual story, which is challenging. I believe she also portrays the African people of the village in an accurate light and gives them a voice despite Nathan’s harsh attitude towards them. I also enjoyed the fact that each daughter was given her own chapters and able to give her perspective on each experience. All four of them represent different qualities; Rachel is self-absorbed, Leah is loyal to a fault, Adah is clever and doubting and Ruth May is innocent. All of them were able to contribute something different to the overall development of the story and I liked that Kingsolver changed each chapter up so dramatically. It kept even the duller parts interesting and fresh.

I suppose that “The Poisonwood Bible” is considered a modern classic for a reason and I should have listened to my mother’s advice on this one sooner. It was a treat to read and despite the length, I was able to soar through it in a week. I wouldn’t say that is it exactly light-reading, but it’s complety entertaining and holds your attention. Barbara Kingsolver is a great storyteller and I guarantee that you won’t soon forget “The Poisonwood Bible”.

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