Monday, August 9, 2010

#27 The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood BibleJudging by the size of the book, I figured it was going to take me a lot longer to tackle The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. In reality it only took 3 days. Once I started, I had a hard time stopping. Even while I watched TV I would keep the book nearby and pick it up during commercials, often abandoning the show I was watching to continue reading after the ads were over. (Finally something good coming out getting rid of my beloved DVR)

The Poisonwood Bible is about the Price family in 1959. Nathan Price, the father, is a Baptist minister who uproots his wife and four daughters to the jungle of Congo to become a missionary in a small village. The wife Orleanna and her daughter Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May bring with them as many comforts from home as they can manage. Soon after arriving in Congo, they realize it was all pointless. The seeds they brought from home don't grow in the African dirt and their cake mixes won't bake in their makeshift oven. Some of them try to adapt to their new surroundings while others stubbornly cling to their ideals.

The Price family sees, firsthand, the disturbing political upheaval in the area. It is insisted that they should leave the area while they still can but Nathan refuses, having not not yet accomlished his goal of converting and baptising their entire of village of people who have no desire to be converted. His decision to stay has devestating consequences which severly impact the lives of each and every member of the family for years to come.

This book brought out a lot of emotions in me, mostly anger, but it also touched my heart. I was angry at Nathan for being such a complete tool and endangering his own family for his own stupid pride. He claimed he was doing the Lord's work but I don't think the Lord would approve of his methods. How can you expect to convert people who you openly look down on with hostility and disdain? As a Christian it angers me that others believe that judging and condemning people is being Christ like. I was also angered by the historical backdrop of warfare and political unrest, a lot of which was precipitated by my own country's government. It happens all the time, the big powerful country has to step in and 'save' the poor country but just as often as not, they end up doing more harm than good and the ones who suffer are the innocent ones. I understand that in some cases, it is necessary to step in but it's rather presumptuous of us as a country to believe that everyone who lives differently than us must be in need of rescue. It just really bothers me but I'll get off that tangent. I was also upset by Rachel and her racist, elitist attitude.I was hoping she would learn and grow but by the end of the book I was sad that she shared my name and really just wanted to slap the hell out of her.

What really warmed my heart was the Price women's interactions with the locals. The village women who sneak their own eggs into the Price's chicken coop so the family wouldn't go hungry or found other small ways to lend their support and the interaction of the children of the village and the Price girls. At my last job I had the pleasure to work with several African people, mostly from Sudan or Somalia. They were so friendly and joyful and smiled all the time and many of them became some of my favorite people. We all got laid off a little over a year ago and I no longer see them. I didn't realize until I read this book how much I missed laughing and joking with them or the way they slapped me on the back and called me 'sister' when I walked by. It makes me sad that we've all scattered to the wind and that I don't get to see them every night anymore.

I loved that Leah saw the good in the community while everyone else was busy looking down on it. I love that she fought to integrate herself into it their culture in a time when everyone else was trying to strip them of it. Leah is a tough cookie and I loved her for it. I also loved Adah and enjoyed watching her overcome a birth defect to thrive and push herself towards the goals she was told were unobtainable. That girl wasn't about to let anyone tell her what she could or couldn't do, gotta respect that.

In the end, this was a complex book. It deals with issues of religion, independence, Western greed and arrogance. I also saw parallels between Congo's fight for independence from Belgium and the that of the Price women trying to get away from Nathan. Both Nathan and Belgium are abusive and stifling the lives of the ones they are supposed to be protecting. As Congo struggles to find it's place in the world, the Price women also set off on their own to discover their purpose. It was beautiful and I loved it.

One quick quote from the book to end my lengthy diatribe.

"Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history."


Anonymous said...

I've been hesitating to read this for a long time, though I'm not really sure why. Your review just convinced me to add it to my ever-growing TBR. Great review! :)

Liz said...

This book is tided with Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God for my ultimate favorite contemporary novel. Hurston's novel is the voice of my soul. Poisenwood Bible changed the way I saw the world. It has probably been 8 to 10 years since I have read it and it still haunts me. I too loved the complexity of race, culture, family, relationships etc that Kingsolver masterfully illuminates without being preachy.

I'm in agreement with you about the consequences of our actions when we attempt to "help" the "other." I think it's modern day imperialism.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book.

Brenna said...

Great review! I've also been meaning to read this but just haven't got around to it. The size is a bit daunting but it's nice to know it only took you 3 days!

Julie P said...

Wonderful review! I have yet to read this, but I may add this to my TBR after reading your review....

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I am so glad that you loved it and it was really wonderful to read such a wonderful review.

This was the first Kingsolver book that I ever read, and now I can't get anough of her and count her as one of my favourite authors. Like you, I couldn't put this book down.

I felt angry reading it too. What God wants its followers to go around 'converting' other people, especially in the manner of the Price patriarch? No true God.

But I loved how they worked as a family. The characters were all so strong in their own way that you couldn't help but feel for them.

I hope that you try others of her books as well.

Amy said...

I think your review is wonderful, Rachel. I read The Poisonwood Bible 5 years ago and I still think about it. You hit on so many important points and themes. I love how you compared Nathan and Belguim and talked about Leah and Adah, my favorite characters.

This is a complex book that requires the reader to focus on it when reading but it's a very worthwhile book to read (I think!)

~ Amy

Anonymous said...

An insightful review, thanks! I've been thinking about reading Kingsolver ever since getting curious about 'Lacuna'. If I ever get past my TBR list then I'm going to give it a go.

BTW, I'm also a 1001-er. Nice to have met someone taking up the same challenge!

Jennifer (An Abundance of Books) said...

Great review, thank you. I love Barbara Kingslover, but have been avoiding The Poisonwood Bible for awhile now. I knew the subject matter would anger me, but your review makes me think twice about it.

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