Monday, 6 March 2017

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
First published in America by Harper in 1998.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Barbara Kingsolver's acclaimed international bestseller tells the story of an American missionary family in the Congo during a poignant chapter in African history. It spins the tale of the fierce evangelical Baptist, Nathan Price, who takes his wife and four daughters on a missionary journey into the heart of darkness of the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them to Africa all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to the King James Bible - is calamitously transformed on African soil. Told from the perspective of the five women, this is a compelling exploration of African history, religion, family, and the many paths to redemption.

My first Barbara Kingsolver book, The Lacuna, left me in two minds about it as I initially enjoyed the depictions of lives and relationships but was then left cold as the second half descended into dry politics. I was concerned that the brick that is The Poisonwood Bible might go the same way, so was delighted to find that it doesn't. The then current situation in The Congo/Zaire is woven around the immediate story of the Price family but its intricacies are not thoroughly explored so if you're hoping for a more factual novel of the country's upheaval, this might not be the one for you.

Instead Kingsolver has created a powerful portrait and caution against the insanity of blind faith and ill-prepared attempts to force one people to the will of another. Her creation of the out-of-their-depth Price family is inspired and I was interested to learn how a Southern 1950s white American family viewed both themselves and their Congolese hosts. Tyrant-father Nathan, believing himself master yet more useless and alienated than anyone due to his refusal to see the Congolese as more than savage children, is the only one whose words we do not directly hear, but his character is rounded out by the five women and girls, his family, existing despite his best efforts(!).
I did find it tricky early on in the novel to remember who was speaking but as each develops her own distinctive voice, the sisters and mother each show their Africa from very different viewpoints and it was interesting to see how their varying skills allowed some entry to Congolese society but also kept them apart.

The pages rushed past as I found this novel impossible to put down and I thought over it a lot in the days after I finished. There are so many issues raised - family and friendship, race and colonialism, religion and choice, life and survival - that I think I could read The Poisonwood Bible several times, seeing new detail in it with each read.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Barbara Kingsolver / Historical fiction / Books from America


  1. Oh, boy. I read this years ago but I couldn't get into it. Once upon a time, this was an Oprah Book Club book so I read it. It didn't appeal to me nearly as it did to you, unfortunately.

  2. I have seen this cover and novel around a lot, but I haven't actually read a review for this novel before. I am glad you were able to love it so much. When a book has such a lasting impression on you, then you know it's amazing.

    1. This is one of my transferred reviews. I actually read The Poisonwood Bible a few years ago, but still vividly remember its story and many of the scenes :-)