After a week and lots of complaining about how slow it was moving, I finally finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Why did I complain? Because it was a sloooooow starter. I was not enthralled by the opening of the book and it wasn’t until I was about halfway that it started reeling me in. Unfortunately however, things soon took a turn for the worse. BUT! Perseverance pays off people and the more I read, the more I got into the rhythm of the story and found the final third of the book to be quite enjoyable. This post is almost as long as the book it’s about, but persevere! It’ll be good practice for when you read the book.
Kingsolver begins by taking us to Africa, in the heart of the Congo in the late 1950’s. Nathan Price is a reverend in Georgia and volunteers the services of himself and his family to go to the wilds of the Congo, to bring Christianity into the hearts and homes of the heathen Congolese. But while his faith in God is unwavering, it is not so easy to instil that faith into people who have been following their own Gods for thousands of years. Just as difficult, is being the Reverend’s wife, or a young girl following your father to the other side of the world, to live in a country so vastly different to your own you could be forgiven for thinking you were on another planet. These are the stories we follow – Orleanna Price, devoted wife and mother whose faith in her husband wavers with that of the faith in her God; and her daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May, all as different from each other as night, day and the Fourth of July. We follow these four girls and their mother when they land in Africa, wishing they could leave, only later to discover that you never truly leave Africa.
This is one of those great books that places fictional characters into factual situations. In this case, we follow the fictional Price family through not only the trials presented living in a foreign country, but also the struggles associated with being a white person in the Congo, in some ways similar to being a black person in the United States during this time. At the time the book is set in, the Congo was fighting for independence from the Belgians and then the Americans, who would take everything of value from the earth and leave the Congolese people with nothing. When white people have done nothing but aid in the destruction of your country, it is hard to discern those that would do you no harm, from those that would. Consequently, it was a dangerous time to be white in the Congo.
I thought that the characters were very well created and seemed to fit in perfectly with the factual side of the story. In no way did they seem as though they were merely thrust into the story. From this it is clear that Kingsolver has researched the hell out of this book (then put some hell back in). You can tell she has been to Africa and has lived it – if you read her note at the start of the book, she tells you as much. I think that the turning point for me in the book, was when I started researching certain aspects of the book as I was reading it. I love learning new things and this book shed light onto a part of history that I was completely ignorant of. The writing was, for lack of a better word, hot, capturing perfectly the physical and political climate that the Price family found themselves in. And although I struggled with this book to start with, the writing turned out to be enough to keep me going.
Earlier this week I told one of my fellow bloggers, basically to put off reading this book, and only read it when they had “exhausted all other options”. The advice still stands, but not for the reason it had previously. Now I want you to put off reading it to make sure that when you read it you are not distracted and can give this book the full attention it deserves. It doesn’t peak until the final third of the book, so push through and prepare yourself for a little bit of heartache. I promise that you will reap the rewards, for not only will you have read a great book, you will also have educated yourself on an important piece of history.
RATING – 6 out of 10. It’s hard to forgive a slow start.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – if you’re interested in the history of Africa in general, this is definitely for you. Also people who enjoy a nice, long, dramatic story.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – My favourite character would definitely have to have been Adah. Life would have been a struggle for her whether she went to Africa or not, but as it turns out it was probably the best thing that could have happened to her. She also has a tendency to read a word the right way, then read it backwards – something I find myself doing constantly.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – Adah, on reading books. ”When I finish reading a book from front to back, I read it back to front. It is a different book, back to front, and you can learn new things from it”.