July 4, 2011

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

Every once in awhile, I get it in my head to take a little trip back in time and pick up a book that I never seemed to get around to when it was in its heyday.

That sort of spirit, combined with a month free from book club and any review requests, led me to finally pick up The Poisonwood Bible. Perhaps most of you have already read this bestseller/Oprah pick, or perhaps you're like me and just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Plot: The Poisonwood Bible spans 30 years in the lives of the Price family. As missionaries from Georgia, they step foot in the Congo in 1959, when the country is on the cusp of political turmoil. Dumped in a tiny mission town in the jungle, the fire and brimstone father believes he has been placed there by God himself to baptize the heathens. His wife and four daughters are forced along for the ride.

The Prices quickly learn that this mission work isn't as easy as they thought and their father's refusal to listen to anyone but his own divine inspiration sets them up for trouble. The novel chronicles the lives of the Price women as they attempt to survive and understand the God they were always told to believe in.

Characters: The book is a character-heavy novel, told by Orleanna Price and her three daughters. With each chapter comes a different voice and the women are worlds apart. From an eldest daughter who cares more about taking care of her blonde hair than her family, to the youngest child who befriends the local children through a simple game of Mother May I, the characters in this novel provide a good look at life in the Congo -- and the politics that break the Congo's back.

Structure: The book is divided into books of the bible, beginning with Genesis and ending with Exodus, with sections told by each of the Price women. At nearly 600 pages, the book is hefty, but the characters keep it moving.

Not knowing the details of the Congo in the 1960s and reading the back of the book, I was expecting much more drama and suspense than what actually happened in the novel. However, I think Kingsolver did a wonderful job at conveying what everyday Congolese families might have experienced as their country was in turmoil.

It's a novel that will keep you thinking about it for a few days and a novel that begs to be discussed. If you're like me and have somehow avoided it since it was published in 1998, I'd encourage you to give it a whirl. 4 stars.


  1. I didn't like this book as much as everyone else seemed to. Partly because I loved Kingsolver's earlier books, such as The Bean Trees, and she seems to have been taken over by a completely different writing style when she began books like this one and The Prodigal Summer. And partly because it seemed like this book ought to have ended about 3/4 of the way through but it just kept going and going and going.

  2. I read this one last year, and I didn't love it. It kinda dragged for me.

  3. Nicole- it definitely dragged for me as well, and to Memarie's point that made me love it less. I debated between 3 and 4 stars. But ultimately I liked the message and evolution of each character.

  4. I have to agree with you that this book is definitely character driven. Although, I have to say that Barbara Kingsolve consstructed it so well that it doesn't get to heavy or burdening to read the characters. It is lingering with me... I do feel like I need to discuss it with people... you're right on those things, too :). Here is my take, if you'd like to see it:



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