Book Review : The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

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Book : The Poisonwood Bible – 543 pps

Author : Barbara Kingsolver

Publisher : HarperCollins Publishers 1999

Amazon : The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

I have been putting this review off for weeks.  I have no idea why.  My notes have been sitting on my desk since I finished the novel and I have been meaning to write this but just… haven’t.  So now that it’s 3:23am and the fireplace that keeps my office warm won’t start (it’s a brisk 16C in here right now) and the wind is screaming outside my window (welcome to Spring in Saskatchewan) and I’ve decided it’s a darn good time to finally write this.

I absolutely adored this book, but I really struggled with this review.  I didn’t know how ‘deep’ I wanted to get with the religious aspects of it because, well, I’m not a particularly religious person.  And, while I have no problem commenting on how I interpreted it, I know there are many out there who know a heck of a lot more about Christianity than I do and I wasn’t sure I wanted to engage in that conversation with my less-than-excessive knowledge on the subject.  I will make one comment though.  This novel was confrontational and quite critical of Christianity, and that’s one of the main reasons I liked it.  I enjoyed the challenge it created.

The second reason I struggled with this review is that I know next to nothing about the Congo.  Specifically the Congo in 1959.  Which, just happens to be the main setting of 90% of this novel.

So instead of the glaringly obvious theme of religion and the ever-present setting of the Congo, I would like to mention the characters and the text itself.

“Believe this: the mistakes are part of the story.” – Adah

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This story is about the Price family.  They are a family of missionaries from Georgia, who volunteer their services in the Congo.  Their living situation changes drastically with their move and they quickly realize just how different their lives as missionaries will be.  Their story is told solely from the mouths of the five women of the family, mother, Orleanna, and daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. While reading, I was enjoying the novel so much that I was nearly three-quarters of the way through it before I realized there wasn’t a single chapter dictated from the perspective of the only male in the family, Nathan.

The prose throughout the novel was smooth and beautiful and each character’s voice was strong, distinct, and unique in their respective chapters.  While I grew to appreciate each girl and woman, I fell head-over-heels for Adah.  She describes herself as a “crooked little person, obsessed with balance.”  Between her physical disability and intellectual excellence she is one of the most eloquently written characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  There were bits of her that reminded me of my brother, and bits that reminded me of myself and together it just created a warmth and I couldn’t help but be hopelessly devoted to her.

I already know this is a novel I will return to many times.  It is one that I will read again and take away a little bit more each time.  So, even though I have no educated response to the religious tone of this novel, and can’t comment on the going ons of the 1959 Congo, I still highly recommend this novel.

“It is true I do not speak as well as I can think.  But this is true of most people, as nearly as I can tell.” – Adah

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