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There s plenty of Goodreads reviewers who felt differently, but I found The Poisonwood Bible to be a very strong and very different piece of historical fiction It s a slower story than I normally like, something you might want to consider before deciding whether to try this 600 page exploration of colonialism, postcolonialism and postcolonial attitudes, but I very much enjoyed this incredibly detailed portrait of a family and a society set in the Belgian Congo of 1959 And I, unlike some other readers, didn t see evidence of a narrow minded agenda in Kingsolver s tale I didn t really see this as a book about lessons or morals, I saw it as a close look at the reality of this time and the different way it can be perceived depending on your point of view.I like writers who explore without trying to impart a lesson, who lay out a canvas but let the reader draw their own conclusions from it This adds depth and a layer of complexity to the novel that allows for that dreaded word interpretation to rear its head But different interpretations make for very interesting conversations And I love it when reading a book creates a two way stream of ideas, those of the author and those of the reader, the kind of book that asks me to think instead of proceeding to think for me Lectures on colonialism Been there, done that, give me this thought provoking method any day.I particularly like what Tatiana said about the different POVs of the Price family and how each showed a different side and a different attitude to colonialism From those who saw it as the West s duty to educate and industrialize savages and rid them of such damaging practices as genital mutilation and infanticide to those who feel embarrassed at what the West has done to the postcolonial world and believe in the need for cultural respect It s complex because there isn t a simple answer to the questions raised by colonialism Do objective, absolute truths ever exist Where does culture end and universal human rights begin Is humanitarian intervention a responsibility or an excuse to impose Western beliefs and values on postcolonial societies Kingsolver shows the many sides to this issue and lets you draw your own conclusions.The story is about Nathan Price and his family Nathan is an evangelical Baptist from Georgia who believes God has sent him on a mission to save through religious conversion the savage citizens of the Belgian Congo With him are his wife and four daughters and the novel alternates between each of these five perspectives I m not usually a fan of any than two POVs but this book turned out to be a rare exception Maybe because Kingsolver spent the necessary time developing each individual character so none of the perspectives felt unnecessary or like filler I ve spent a lot of time comparing this book to another I read recently A Thousand Splendid Suns They are both books about countries and cultures that I was only vaguely familiar with and they are both about a very specific turning point in each country s history And while they are both good, in my opinion, they are also two very different kinds of novels A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fast paced, emotional, dramatic page turner that has you constantly on the edge of your seat I read it in a single day and wanted to recommend it to every person who hadn t read it The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand, is a slower, complex, demanding work that is even satisfying when you look back over it and observe its clever details as a whole It s not for everyone and I m sure my Empire and Decolonization course helped prepare me somewhat for it Ultimately, I really liked how Kingsolver uses the different perspectives to take on the different attitudes to postcolonialism For me, this is a clever and thought provoking novel that goes beyond what many other books of its kind have achieved. The forest eats itself and lives forever. Image The Trees Have Eyes by Angela WrightThere is magic in these pages Not the supernatural kind Not the magical realism kind But magic of language and of the TARDIS kind by some strange sorcery, many huge themes are thoroughly but lightly explored in single volume that is beautiful, harrowing, exciting, tender, occasionally humorous, and very approachable We messengers of goodwill adrift in a sea of mistaken intentions. Freedom and Forgiveness I was lodged in the heart of darkness I cowered beside my cage, and though my soul hankered after the mountain, I found I had no wings. This is multi layered, multi faceted, and multi narrated But the many themes all concern the craving for freedom Freedom of individuals and of nations, from exploitation, superstition, poverty, hunger, disease, bad relationships, and colonial oppressors When freedom is offered, there is the difficulty of recognising it and having the courage to accept it In the final third, the stories flow in separate channels, yet the theme narrows to the idea that freedom requires letting go Specifically, we must forgive others and ourselves before we can be truly free Genesis, The Revelation, The Judges, Bel and the Serpent, Exodus, Song of the Three Children, and The Eyes in the Trees The seven sections are titled after pertinent books of the Bible or Apocrypha In 1959, a Baptist minister takes his wife and four daughters Rachel, twins Leah and Adah, and little Ruth May from suburban Georgia, USA on a one year mission to a remote village in the Congo, shortly before independence The first two thirds concern their departure, arrival, and year in Kilanga The remainder follows their diverging lives up to 1986 and beyond The final section is a slightly superfluous race through a couple of decades The narration switches between Orleanna, the now elderly wife mother looking back, and the four daughters nearer the now of that stage of the story All are independent minded and intelligent, each with a distinctive voice, which develops plausibly with the story except for the one Kingsolver probably least identifies with, who becomes something of a caricature in middle age Each illustrates a different Western approach to Africa meidcal fix, submission immersion, political reform, colonial paternalism They could easily just be stereotypes vicar s wife the sweet sixteen, caring about cosmetics and fashion the nature loving, religious tomboy the silent, thoughtful, limping observer the gregarious child , but Kingsolver makes each uniquely believable and engaging, especially mute Adah whose words are those of a sensuous, awe struck, and non judgemental poet.Nathan, whose damaged psyche, guilt, and inflexible beliefs are the trigger for everything, is only ever known through the words of the women he despises Unfair or karma Giving him a single chapter would seem tokenistic, and equal billing would unbalance the whole book I think the way Kingsolver has written it rectifies the imbalance of his long term power over the women in the story For Better or Worse The hardest work of every day was deciding, once again, to stay with my family They never even knew. Orleanna is married to a man who does not, and probably never could love her She is pained that The thing you love than this world grew from a devil s seed , but loves her very different children regardless She wrestles with whether and how to leave Nathan, considering the consequences for the girls With hindsight, she wonders what she was guilty of complicity, loyalty, stupefaction But she was a victim, too That abusive marriage is beautifully contrasted with a tender, devoted couple They struggle for mere survival and are often forced apart, sometimes for long periods, but their love and commitment never waver As with freedom and forgiveness, the difficulty is not merely finding love, but recognising it and then daring to grasp it and cling to it.ThemesI expect different themes dominate, depending on the individual circumstances of each reader I could write a whole review focusing on any one of these The circle of life, eating and being eaten, survival Alive, nobody matters much in the long run But dead, some men matter than others The butterfly effect The sting of a fly can launch the end of the world And Every life is different because you passed this way Nature, nurture, how landscape shapes peoples, despite their attempts to shape it Sin, original sin snakes , sins of the Father and consequences for individuals, but also in terms of colonialism, reparations, freedom Guilt, judgement and privilege, especially survivor guilt and white privilege Everyone here is burdened with guilt, mostly of an unnecessary kind or degree God doesn t need to punish us He just grants us enough life to punish ourselves The Bible, faith and loss of , religion life insurance or life sentence life jacket or straitjacket Truth versus intention of the Bible and God Language, mis translation, misunderstanding, wordplay especially Malapropisms circus mission for circumcision and palindromes , and literalism or not in interpreting the Bible Polysemy and poisonwood Mbote means hello and goodbye, both Dundu is a kind of antelope, a particular plant, a hill, or the price you have to pay The words of baptism and to terrify sound almost the same And most disastrously for Nathan, bangala means most precious Jesus , most insufferable and poisonwood Racism both ways Opposites, balance, reversal, palindromes, mirrors, ying yang, pairs, twins Freedom, liberty, independence and their cost Education its importance, and especially the need to understand rather than merely know Our hardest task is teaching people to count on a future Clash of cultures Africa swallowed the conqueror s music and sang a new song of her own The need to adapt, and the disastrous consequences of not doing so It s like he s trying to put rubber tires on a horse but there are no horses in the Congo, The point I was trying to make was so true there was not even a good way to say it The role of women in their own right, but also as wives and mothers Consumerism, agriculture, colonialism, war, politics, the environment Listening, watching, eavesdropping The Eyes in the Trees by God, animals, and fellow humans alive and dead One of Rachel s better Malapropisms is false eye dolls Disability and identity Disability may not be entirely one s fault but one should have the good manners to act ashamed in the face of the arrogance of the able bodied Yet, being cured might not be a blessing Change, adaptation, and finding one s true self the character development is really well done To live is to be marked To live is to change To acquire the words of a story Love, loyalty, sacrifice, hope Symbolism, prophesy, foreboding Biblical of course , but others, too, such as the hope chests the girls prepare for future marriage one sees no need, one applies black borders, one does it carefully, and another doesn t do it at all Also colonialism of Africa having parallels with individual people.Sensual and Synaesthetic Quotes She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand Rainy season light in my eyes and Congo grit in my teeth Emily Dickinson No snikcidy lime, a contrary name with a sourgreen taste She liked herself best in darkness, as do I Bright fabrics worn together in jangling mixtures that ring in my ears Rattling words on the page calling my eyes to dance with them Once every few years, even now, I catch the scent of Africa While my husband s intentions crystallized as rock salt the Congo breathed behind the curtain of the forest, preparing to roll over us like a river All those smells were so loud in my ears The silk texture of that cool air, the smell of Congolese earth curling its toes under a thatch of dead grass Other Quotes Consecrate myself in the public library Here, bodily damage is or less considered to be a by product of living, not a disgrace I enjoy a benign approval that I have never, ever known in Bethlehem, Georgia Sending a girl to college is like pouring water on your shoes Whatever happens Father acts like it s a movie he s already seen and we re just dumb for not knowing how it comes out To save my sanity, I learned to pad around hardship in soft slippers and try to remark on its good points The buzzards rise from the leafless billboard tree and flap away like the sound of old black satin dresses beating together I am the smooth, elegant black cat who slips from the house as a liquid shadow With my own narrow shadow for a boat I navigate the streams of moonlight that run between shadow islands The radio a live mass of wires oozing from his trunk, a seething congregation of snakes Yellow leaves littering the ground like a carpet rolled out for the approaching footsteps of the end of time The sun hung low on the river, seemingly reluctant to enter this strange day Then it rose redly into the purpled sky, resembling a black eye Chasing flames that passed hungrily over the startled grass As long as I kept moving my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer s long hair in water I knew the weight was there but it didn t touch me Even in solitude, there are exploding moments of unexpected companionship and joy such as A kiss of flesh coloured sunrise while I hung out the washing, a sigh of indigo birds exhaled from the grass By X I was shattered and assembled, by way of X I am delivered not out of my life but through it Love changes everything Inadvertently echoing Nathan s belief that God delivers us not from suffering, but through it I recite the Periodic Table like a prayer I take my exams as Holy Communion, and the passing of the first semester was a sacrament Carry us, marry us, ferry us, bury us those are our four ways to exodus, for now For a very different take on the missionary experience, see Michel Faber s interplantary, The Book of Strange New Things, reviewed HERE.Image source The Trees Have Eyes by Angela Wright In late 1950s Congo, an American missionary arrives with his family intent on bringing enlightenment to the savages The experiences of the family are told by the preacher s wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters, the vain Rachel, twins Leah, who is devoted to her father, and Adah, damaged at birth but aware than anyone realizes, and the baby, Ruth Ann The events take place during a period when Congo was eager to cast off its colonial chains and we see some details of events of the time.Barbara Kingsolver from the GuardianThis is a tale not merely about a missionary family in an alien land, but about learning to see what is in plain sight It is about opening the mind and the heart We learn about the local culture, good and bad, as well as about the s of the missionaries The father is presented as a mindless faith robot, determined to convert the heathen while being completely clueless about and uninterested in learning how to actually communicate with them I would have preferred it had this character been given some dimension, instead of serving as a stand in for the arrogance of western cultural imperialism His family is given a better shake Through Orleanna s and the girls eyes we see not only their private struggles and coming of age, but gain insight into and information about the strange world into which they have been thrust Kingsolver reminds us of the time period with small portraits of local involvement in the independence movement I expect that there will be those who reject the novel because it takes an anti imperialist and anti missionary perspective, ignoring the aspects of the tale that are critical of local practices as well But I did not react to this book as a political screed There is great craft at work here Kingsolver offers poetic descriptions that I found extremely beautiful, rich and moving Her main characters were well realized and accessible, and she succeeded nicely in giving each a very individual voice The path along which she moves her characters made sense to me and only rarely did I have a tough time accepting her authorial choices Overall, this is a terrific book, well crafted, informative and satisfying.For any interested in learning about the history of the Congo, particularly as it pertains to Belgium s role, there is no better read than Adam Hochschild s King Leopold s Ghost, an outstanding telling of that story EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter and FB pagesReviews of other Kingsolver books The Lacuna Flight Behavior Unsheltered I read this over a two day span in college when I was home for winter break We had a power outage so I found the sunniest room in the house and read all day Although I prefer Kingsolver s works about the American southwest, this remains one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. 5 epic, no wonder this book is so well loved stars, to The Poisonwood Bible Review of the audio The Price family, including minister father, Nathan, mother, Orleanna, and four daughters, traveled to the Belgian Congo in the late 1950s to serve a Baptist mission The mom and daughters are the narrators, and I enjoyed the audio narrator s voices for each of the characters even her southern accent wasn t too off the mark I do have to warn for audio fans, there were so many characters and voices, making it hard for me to keep track with just the audio I will most definitely be reading this book in the future, once I ve forgotten a little The writing was atmospheric without being overly detailed The characters were as round as round could be I felt all kinds of emotions while listening There was tragedy, there was joy, but overall, the tone was somber, and much of that was due to the political stirrings in Congo at the time, as well as due to Nathan s harsh enforcement of his interpretations of the Bible The book was epic in proportions because it covered this entire family over a long period of time, and not a stone was left unturned Overall, I enjoyed every bit of it A couple sidenotes This book has been languishing on my shelf un read since Oprah chose it for her book club I m so glad I finally read it This was a Traveling Sister read, which I enjoyed immensely As I read the book, I wondered how the author thought up all this story The Author s Note explained it in detail. I had a hard time choosing between 2 and 3 stars really, it should be 2.5 I thought the prose was quite lovely Kingsolver has a nice voice I enjoyed reading about a part of the world of which I have no experience The description of the clash of cultures was well done However The author had an agenda and she really didn t mind continually slapping us in the face with it Now, I don t pretend the US hasn t made mistakes and won t continue on making mistakes But to equate one group of people with only one characteristic American greedy, capitalistic devil and another group with the entirely opposite characteristic African naive, innocent angel is not just a little prejudicial Please people in general have a little depth than that In fact, I would assume that the only evil African was Mobutu who, I interpreted, was probably OK until corrupted by America and the only really good American was Leah since she ended up reviling the US And as for one dimensional characters I wish that Kingsolver had had at least one chapter in Nathan Price s voice We are meant to hate him, and I did I wanted him to get eaten by a leopard, or have someone hit him over the head with a shovel Yet we got glimpses into his personality before WWII and got hints that he has scars as well Why was he the way he was What went on in his mind For the person who most affected the major characters lives, we end up knowing remarkably little about him, other than that he was a despicable man I felt that Kingsolver meant him to represent evil how could he not be, as not only white and Christian, but a man to boot and decided that he needed no explanation than that.Overall, a very enlightening book, but I think a non fiction and slightly objective book on the topic would have had a much bigger impact on me than the story Kingsolver tried to craft around the obviously heartbreaking struggle of the Congolese. .EBOOK ⚕ The Poisonwood Bible ♷ The Poisonwood Bible Is A Story Told By The Wife And Four Daughters Of Nathan Price, A Fierce, Evangelical Baptist Who Takes His Family And Mission To The Belgian Congo In They Carry With Them Everything They Believe They Will Need From Home, But Soon Find That All Of It From Garden Seeds To Scripture Is Calamitously Transformed On African Soil What Follows Is A Suspenseful Epic Of One Family S Tragic Undoing And Remarkable Reconstruction Over The Course Of Three Decades In Postcolonial AfricaThe Novel Is Set Against One Of The Most Dramatic Political Chronicles Of The Twentieth Century The Congo S Fight For Independence From Belgium, The Murder Of Its First Elected Prime Minister, The CIA Coup To Install His Replacement, And The Insidious Progress Of A World Economic Order That Robs The Fledgling African Nation Of Its Autonomy Against This Backdrop, Orleanna Price Reconstructs The Story Of Her Evangelist Husband S Part In The Western Assault On Africa, A Tale Indelibly Darkened By Her Own Losses And Unanswerable Questions About Her Own Culpability Also Narrating The Story, By Turns, Are Her Four Daughters The Self Centered, Teenaged Rachel Shrewd Adolescent Twins Leah And Adah And Ruth May, A Prescient Five Year Old These Sharply Observant Girls, Who Arrive In The Congo With Racial Preconceptions Forged In S Georgia, Will Be Marked In Surprisingly Different Ways By Their Father S Intractable Mission, And By Africa Itself Ultimately Each Must Strike Her Own Separate Path To Salvation Their Passionately Intertwined Stories Become A Compelling Exploration Of Moral Risk And Personal Responsibility Dancing Between The Dark Comedy Of Human Failings And The Breathtaking Possibilities Of Human Hope, The Poisonwood Bible Possesses All That Has Distinguished Barbara Kingsolver S Previous Work, And Extends This Beloved Writer S Vision To An Entirely New Level Taking Its Place Alongside The Classic Works Of Postcolonial Literature, This Ambitious Novel Establishes Kingsolver As One Of The Most Thoughtful And Daring Of Modern Writers Reviewing in the face of the great billows of love projected towards this novel is a hapless task, your hat blows off and your eyes get all teary and if you say one wrong thing small children run out of nowhere and stone you or just bite your calves So I shall this one time sheathe my acid quill But I can t resist just a couple of little points though 1 you have to suspend great balefuls of disbelief These kids, they re awfully highfalutin with their fancy flora and fauna and fitful forensic philosophising And the mother is worse, you can see where they get it from.2 I don t care for the historical novel film cliche where a character rushes in and clues us up to the bigger picture Have you heard, Sophie War has broken out between the Austro Hungarian Empire and the Turks, the English fleet has just been sunk, the king has fled and we have a new Pope Why Sir Marmalade Gin Rummy, you don t say so, and how is the Queen The Queen has syphilis and now barks like a very dog etc etc 3 For 350 pages the writing is lovely and the recreation of one tiny corner of the Congo convinced me Ah if it was only all like that, then we could remain friends and there would be no tears before bedtime.4 After that it goes really wrong I mean, seriously 5 But 350 pages can t be denied It s than you get from most books. People love this book, and I think I understand why It s got a collection of strong characters, each chapter is written from a different character s point of view, and it s set in Africa, which is exciting But there are a few reasons I don t think it s great literature The main things I expect from a good novel are a that the writer doesn t manipulate her characters for her agenda, b that the characters actions are consistent to the world the writer has created for them, c good, tight prose, and d the characters are nuanced and aren t entirely perfect or hideous In this novel, the father character is entirely hideous and the mother and each daughter represent a plight of some kind Their existence is to present arguments for and against lots of important issues in Africa, but for me that kind of thing is an extremely dissatisfying fiction experience I suppose there is an argument for fictionalizing reality in order to make it palatable and invite a larger audience to your cause, but I don t think this novel is successful in that regard I found it overly preachy, critical, and completely disrespectful to its characters, whom I believe deserve a better story in which to thrive. What is amazing about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is the author s voice Kingsolver casts a spell with the language she uses to describe three decades in the collective lives of the Price family, beginning with their time as missionaries in the Belgian Congo The structure is also a strength The story is narrated by the mother and daughters of the Price family, each illustrating her perspective of the family chronicle as they experience what would become and what really began as an ill fated mission The ending family is a mirror image of the beginning, Leah Price and her four sons serving as the anti missionary to Nathan Price s strict and misguided zealotry Kingsolver s imagery is reminiscent of Faulkner s families, and it may be a silent nod to the Nobel Prize winner to have Orleana Price come from Mississippi The reader cannot help but be reminded of William Faulkner s The Sound and the Fury and especially As I Lay Dying, redolent by the altering perspectives of the characters narrative Kingsolver also masterfully explores many Faulkneresque themes such as family, legacy, racism, guilt, and connections to land The author also depicts and expounds upon themes of motherhood, parent child relationships, feminism, colonial arrogance and forgiveness Running in a current throughout the novel is religion and how Christianity blends and conflicts with animist theology The Poisonwood Bible also records the history of colonial Congo as it transitions briefly to independence and then to a subjugation of another kind, while also spending some time with the economics of the Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.What I cannot like about the book, and what becomes a fundamental, and distractingly unnecessary flaw is the lack of objective balance Kingsolver is clearly critical of the Christian mission and Western capitalism, and her argument is persuasive There is no doubt that Western influences, from colonial Belgium to CIA interference to capitalistic excesses have caused devastating problems in the region What is maddening about the narrative is Kingsolver s use of straw man arguments, when she does not need to She has made her point and well, so refusing to even acknowledge a counter argument weakens her otherwise powerful reasoning The characters Nathan and Rachel Price are unnecessarily one dimensional She provides an intriguing back story to explain some of Nathan s neurosis but uses him simply as a foil to Leah s development and as an inverse example of her pragmatic spirituality Rachel s character is really a caricature, almost a comic relief, and this glaring juxtaposition to Ada s allegorical maturity further diminishes Kingsolver s otherwise impressive artistic achievement Still, these flaws are far from fatal and Barbara Kingsolver has created a memorable work 2018 addendum it is a testament to great literature that a reader recalls the work years later and this is a book about which I frequently think Excellent.