I actually quite enjoyed writing a book review for my previous post, so I decided to do it again! I just finished The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and am excited to share my thoughts on it. Warning: this book did not leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy; read at your own caution.
Yes, I read other books in between It and this book; I’m not that slow of a reader. Unfortunately, however, I feel like I waited too long after reading those books to write a review that would do them justice. So instead I am going to write about the book i finished last night.
Why did I decide to read this book? Well, first off, last year I had to read Kingsolver’s book The Bean Trees for school, and I fell in love. We hardly ever have to read books written by women for school, making it stand out already. This book has such a simple plot, yet it tore my heart in multiple directions, dealing with multiple issues such as sexism, racism, xenophobia, and teen pregnancy. It is all my little activist mind can dream of! Likewise, if I found The Bean Trees so amazing, I thought I should definitely read her most popular book, The Poisonwood Bible.
This novel follows the lives of Nathan Price, a Baptist missionary, his wife, and his four daughters in the 1960s. Nathan feels it is God’s will that he brings Christianity to the people of the Congo, but he goes about it in an ineffective way. Instead of trying to relate his religion to their lifestyle, he enforces American traditions, driving the people farther from him. For example, Nathan believes the rate of malnutrition is high because the people just don’t know how to plant. Little does he know, the soil is actually quite different in the Congo than in Georgia. At first, his ignorance is comical in a way, but it quickly becomes too severe.
Suddenly, the Prices find out that the Congo is declaring their independence. Even though almost all the missionaries in the country leave, even though the mother begs Nathan to go home, even though the youngest is sick with malaria, the reverend refuses to leave until everyone in his area has been converted to Christianity. This choice affects all of their lives.
The rest of the novel deals with a slew of emotions: redemption, forgiveness, guilt, greed, love, and hate. As each of the girls grows up, we see how their lives are affected by a strict religious father who gradually becomes abusive. It was truly fascinating to see the different directions each person goes and where they end up. They all have happy endings…in a way. I couldn’t help wondering where this family would be if Nathan hadn’t been so determined to enforce his ideas.
Kingsolver wittily demonstrates her knowledge of human psychology as she paints such contrasting characters. Each ends up in an entirely different situation, completely separate from the rest. The book has a mysterious and melancholy feel to it. I admit: I cried through the last chapter. The symbolism is incredibly powerful and the recurring themes come through so thoroughly–I just couldn’t help myself.
My issues with the book? For about the first three quarters I was a bit annoyed with Kingsolver’s portrayal of the daughter Adah. Adah is the lonely cripple of the family (I did not have a problem with this, obviously. I’m not that mean!). However being quite kind, Adah thinks in a weird way that I believed to be a little over the top. I understood that Kingsolver is trying to make her different, but I felt as if it is shoved in your face a bit. By the end though, after seeing Adah’s character development, it all made sense as to why Kingsolver put so much effort into illustrating Adah as such a different person.
I also feel that some of the takes on religion in the book are a bit harsh. Kingsolver tried to show a loving version of Christianity through Brother Fowles, but this character is so briefly mentioned and explained that it did not add much. By the end, almost all the women from the family view Christianity as a horrible monstrosity. This is understandable, considering their pasts, but it makes the book seem more anti Christian than I think Kingsolver was going for. If she wanted it to be that way, she wouldn’t have included Brother Fowles in the story at all. I just feel that she did not give that character a big enough role in order to get her point across.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is by no means a feel-good story. I ended up lying in bed the night I finished just thinking over everything. If nothing else, it is definitely thought-provoking. This is a great novel to read if you are looking for a female author’s work which includes overlapping symbolism, beautiful style, or deep meaning.