The Poisonwood Bible
Back cover: 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 1959. 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 Africa.
The Poisonwood Bible is an amazing story that makes you think. Nathan Price, knowing nothing about the Congo or its people, is determined to start a church and save all the natives. The story is told from the perspective of Orleana Price and her four daughters. The chapters alternate mainly between the four daughters. Rachel, a teenager who vain and self absorbed; twins Leah and Adah, both extremely intelligent, but physically different. Adah disabled from birth, chooses not to speak. Leah adores her father whereas Adah views him and the world more realistically. And Ruth who narrates her world through her five year old eyes. While Nathan insists on the natives conforming to his view of the world, Orleana and her daughters do their best to survive, learning about the world they now are forced to reside it.
The story is full of African history and culture. Due to there being different meanings to the same word, whether you place the emphasis on one part or another, lead to many miscommunication between the Prices and the villagers. Nathan wanted to baptize villagers in the river and he couldn't understand why they kept refusing. It took six months before any one managed to tell him that one of their children had been eaten by a crocodile in the river and that's why they didn't want to.
Another interesting aspect was how the villagers used the government's general elections to their advantage. Once they learned about elections they decided to have an election of their own. During the middle of one of Nathan's church services, the village chief interrupted his sermon to announce it was time for them to have an election, A vote to decide whether the villagers would choose Jesus or their religion, which totally floored Nathan.
Throughout the story, the villagers remain a constant. They are the ones that end up teaching the Prices about life, individuality, liberty, and death. Africa changes the Price family, for better and for worse, forever. I didn't expect to enjoy this story as much as I did. From Rachel's self absorbed rants to Adah's metamorphosis, the lives of the Prices and the story of Africa completely enfolds you. I highly recommend it.
Thank you to Trish of TLC tours for inviting me to be part of the Barbara Kingsolver Tour, Harper Perennial for providing me with a copy of the book; and Barbara Kingsolver for writing such an intriguing story. Barbara's latest book, The Lacuna has been released on paperback and is available at your local and online booksellers.
Excerpt: "Genesis - Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on a branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.
Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above this way, they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you'll have to decide what sympathy they deserve. The mother especially--watch how she leads them on, pale-eyed, deliberate. Her dark hair is tied in a ragged lace handkerchief and her curved jawbone is lit with large, false-pearl earrings, as if these headlamps from another world might show the way. The daughters march behind her, four girls compressed in bodies as tight as bowstrings, each one tensed to fire off a woman's heart on a different path to glory or damnation. Even now they resist affinity like cats in a bag: two blondes--the one short and fierce, the other tall and imperious--flanked by matched brunettes like bookends, the forward twin leading hungrily while the rear one sweeps the ground in a rhythmic limp. But gamely enough they climb together over logs of rank decay that have fallen across the path. The mother waves a graceful hand in front of her as she leads the way, parting curtain and curtain of spiders' webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. Behind them the curtain closes. The spiders return to their killing ways."