Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I loved this book. Loved. Unabashedly, unreservedly, loved.

Right then. I picked this up...a long time ago. It's one of those books that's been sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get around to it. To be honest, I almost got rid of it years ago when I did my Great Purge. I held onto it for some reason, shallowly, probably because of the 'Oprah's Book Club' seal on the front.

I'm very glad that I did hold onto it. See above for my general level of :DDD - all the love for this book.

The death of something living is the price of our own survival, and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep.” 

It's told in the alternating point of views of the five Price women. The mother, Orleanna, and her four daughters; Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May.

Their lives revolve around the patriarch of the Price family, Reverend Nathan Price. The man, a Southern Baptist preacher turned missionary is driven by inner demons whose shapes become clear through the story of the book. Believing that he is on a mission from God, Price drags his family to the Congo in the late 1950s which I think most people know could be, in a massive understatement, called the beginning of a time of great upheaval in the region.

The Price family arrive in the Congo with no knowledge of the language and no idea of the political situation. Nathan has dragged them there against the advice of the people in charge of the mission, though his wife doesn't find that out until later. They arrive believing in their inherent superiority as whites, as civilized, Western people and as Christians. Their arrogance and utter lack of understanding or even a desire to understand the culture and the people that they are suddenly surrounded by is grating and sickening in places.

While the women of the family adapt to varying degrees, forced to learn how to survive in a completely alien environment, Nathan is focused and blind to the point of madness. He sees nothing but enemies all around him, even in his own family. Throughout the book we are shown the damage that his rampant misogyny has on his family. His wife, a strong and spirited woman in her youth when they first marry is beaten down and subjugated to the point where she becomes unable to stand strong enough to save her daughters until it is too late.

"God doesn’t have to punish us. He just grants us a long enough life to punish ourselves."

There is action in this book, though not of the guns and knives sort. The tension, the driving force behind the book is the slow growing understanding of just how far out of control this family is. How at the mercy of a single man and his madness they have become. It's a novel about people and about how they can either bend or break.

It does start out slowly. I can't tell you the number of times that I was reading and thought about just putting it down and moving on at first. There are moments of dark hilarity, like when Nathan is finally told that the reason no one wants to be baptised is that they think he's trying to feed them to the crocodiles in the river that grow fewer and fewer as you read on and begin to understand exactly how delusional Nathan is, how determined he is that he is chosen by God and that he will stay his course no matter how many lives it costs.

"Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs, war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever."  

I know this is a short and kind of really vague review, but I always want to err on the side of not giving too much of the book away. Part of the wonder of books, the thing that draws us in, is not known what's coming on the next page.

This book is worth the time you spend on it. Go read it.

I give this book 4.5/5.


  1. sounds good! thanks for sharing! I'll have to look for it.

    1. I think you'd really enjoy it. It's very much all about the people and their interactions which is right up your alley!

      Also, I have to admit that when I read that the Price's were Southern Baptist I thought of you. :)

  2. OMG!!! This is one of my favorite favorite books! I LOVE IT!! I bought it right before it was on Oprah's list years ago. It sparked my decision to buy books with settings in a foreign country from that point on. Man I cannot list all the things I love about it--although I do believe the part where they're running from the ants sticks out most in my mind.

    There is not a week that goes by that I do not think about this book--probably because it is my first love that sticks out and continues to remain at the top of my favs for me.

    I had planned to read all my old books again this year--each and everyone-- since it has been so long since I've read most of them--some more than ten years--and this was the one I was going to read FIRST!

    Anyway, I likes it so much I remember where I was living when I read it. Even remember the book I read immediately following it...The Death Of Vishnu--which quenched my thirst and love of all things India. (I liked that books as well. But not as much as the Poisonwood Bible. )

    Thanks for posting this. I can't believe there is someone else who loved it as much as me :)I think as soon as I am finished reading my current book I will start this one. I cannot wait!!!


    1. Maybe I should have taken advantage of the little editing box prior to posting. Sorry for the typos

    2. I didn't expect to love it nearly as much as I did.

      The scene with the river of ants was very intense and sticks out in my mind too. Another one is when they move Ruth May's cot and find all her malaria pills stuck to the wall. I can just about *feel* Orleanna's despair and anger.

      The mourning women of the village when their children are dying is very vivid, as is the scene later on when *redacted for spoilers* and Orleanna hauls everything out of their house.

      It's a book full of incredible, memorable imagery.

  3. It's weird. For some reason I'm suspicious of the Oprah's Book Club seal, because it seems too popular and therefore I expect it to be fluffy. And yet, every time I've gotten over my prejudice and picked up one of the books, I wind up loving it. I haven't actually seen this one, but I remember you mentioning it on Facebook. Between that mention and this review, it sounds interesting. I will put it on my to-read list for...eventually. :D SO MANY BOOKS. They've been piling up for the past 3.5 years. Oh well. There are worse things than having an overabundance of suggested books to read. :) I'm just glad I have the time to do it now.

    1. I get that. There's something sort of...'well, it's OPRAH. It's so commercial and everyone loves it so it can't be any good, really.' But this one is.

  4. Thanks for the review! It goes on the (way too long) list of books to read :D


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