Review: ‘The Poisonwood Bible’


The Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver

  • Date finished: Oct. 20, 2014
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1998
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2014
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts upon reading:

I realized the other day that I’ve given A’s to every book I’ve read this fall. I thought maybe it was because I’ve been super lazy lately (and by “lazy” I mean lazy toward extracurricular things like this blog, because school + work + derby is just consuming me this fall). But you know, I actually think it’s because I’ve read a lot of really great books, including Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

The Poisonwood Bible is one of those books that a) has been on my radar for months and months and months, due to the fact that I was a bookseller and I tend to haunt used bookstores/sales, and b) has been sitting on my shelf un-read for far, far too long. I was a little caught off guard by how long this book was, and how long it took me to finally finish it, but when I did, I was so, so happy because it was definitely worth it.

The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the ill-fated Prices, a family of Baptist missionaries in the Congo in the late 1950’s. Led by the crazed and somewhat dangerous evangelical minister, Nathan Price, the story is narrated in turn by his wife and his four daughters. The bulk of the story concerns the family’s mission in the village of Kilkanga – and how the family tragically falls apart in the jungle heat. What I was pleasantly surprised to find is that the last quarter of the book is concerned with how the family manages to eventually reconstruct itself in the following years, healing their scars together and moving on with a new identities and new realities – realities that are all touched by Africa.

What I liked about The Poisonwood Bible is that it’s a book about many things. At first I thought it was some sort of psychological thriller with the absolutely terrifying Nathan Price at the center. However, the Price women remain the focus of this book, whether it’s their relationships with each other (guilt, shame, sacrificial love) or their individual struggles. Each Price girl, including their sad, strong mother, goes on to live very different lives, though they’re all touched by a sense of tragedy. How they cope with, and accept, that tragedy defines the rest of their lives.

This book is also about Africa, and about the Congo, and it was a wonderfully educational experience. One of the librarians I work with, upon learning I was reading this book, immediately recommended several more books about Africa, and I think I’ll have to take those recommendations. Not since reading Chinua Achebe in high school have I been immersed in literary Africa, and it’s a place I should really visit more often.

And of course, discovering another fantastic woman writer is just the icing on top of the cake. Because you know I now have to read all of Kingsolver’s work.

3 thoughts on “Review: ‘The Poisonwood Bible’

  1. Oh, you must read her novel Prodigal Summer next. So. Good. (Though The Poison Wood Bible is still her best, in my opinion.)

  2. Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorite novels (I was married to a pastor once and he reminded me of a key character). Her newest book, Flight Behavior, is equally fabulous. Glad to see the review!

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