Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I bought this book for my mum for her birthday a couple of years ago. Just my luck, she'd already read it, so I kept it for myself. Ever since then, I think of this book as something ALL mothers have read and it's about time I knew what all the fuss was about...
The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the Price family. An evangelical priest father brings his wife and four daughters with him to the Congo to do missionary work. In alternating chapters, the book is told by the Price children. We watch the family grow and evolve over a 30 year period, as they learn how it feels to be in a foreign country and be so very far away from home.
Told from various perspectives is - in my opinion - an amazing way to connect to multiple characters, something which I find to be really essential when it comes to longer, denser reads to hold interest for a reader. Each sister was very easy to distinguish as they are all on vastly different ends of the spectrum when it came to their nobility and humbleness. The multiple perspectives constantly kept the story moving as all the daughters had a very different experience living in the Congo, where some saw the beauty in it, and another hated everything about it. Having the daughters all be truly different in their attitudes and personas allowed the reader to adore some and despise others. Unsurprisingly, this meant The Poisonwood Bible is often compared to Little Women in the way we adore Leah and Adah (Jo) and despite Rachel (Amy), much like their classical counterparts. Throughout my reading experience, I grew worried and felt my reading experience was being tainted by how awful some of the characters were to the Congolese. In these scenarios, it felt important to consistently remind myself that reading about racist characters does not necessarily make a book or an author racist. Ultimately, it did seem to take away something from the enjoyment of reading this book as there were no points where the true effects had on the locals were being discussed. Luckily, I was relieved to know that the characters redeem their wrongdoings by openly admitting that they came to Africa and only took away from the local people. They mentioned their privilege and the white arrogance that goes with westerners relocating to under developed countries and imposing their way of life, and believing it to be in some way, superior (even when done with the best intentions). It felt like an important conversation to be had, and if it hadn't, I would be giving the book a low rating.
...after working this same land for ten years, am I starting to understand the length and breadth of outsider's failure to impose themselves on Africa. This is not Brussels or Moscow or Macon, Georgia. This is famine or flood. You can’t teach a thing until you’ve learned that. It‘s a great shock to souls gently reared in places of moderate clime, hope, and dread.
Overall, Barbara Kingsolver's writing was truly exceptional and poetic - it felt like reading a masterful work of her craft throughout. If you are looking for something moving and hearty, this book will certainly be an experience for you. It's an interesting story and very different to anything I've read before.
Initial Prediction: 4 stars
Final Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 24 September 1998 (my edition: 6 July 2017)
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Genres: Historical Fiction
# of Pages: 616