The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

I am reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99.
The Poisonwood Bible: A NovelSummary: A 1960s Southern Baptist family moves to the Congo to be missionaries.  Their lives are forever changed.

I have been somewhat reluctant to read this book.  I know a ton of people that have liked it.  My sister in law suggested it years ago and kept suggesting it to me.  Many others commented when they saw I had started reading it.

It is a book that well deserves all of its praise.  This is a book many should read.  It is not a everything comes out happy story (which I knew going in).  But not all stories that are important are happy.

Very quickly into the story the family move to the Congo.  As you can guess much of the early book is focused on cultural transition issues.  The father feels called by God to bring salvation to the Congo.  But he is inadequately prepared for what that really means.  The mother can barely survive what it takes to just live, cooking, cleaning, raising four girls in the Congo. Even without a difficult overbearing husband, it would be hard.  The four daughters find their own ways of coping for better and worse.

I expected the story to be about the year or so that they were in the Congo.  But it goes on from 1959, right before Congo’s independence until the mid 1980s.  As with many books, the responses of the characters is somewhat ideal types.  The daughters have completely separate response to Africa.

Kingsolver has the women tell the story.  So there are alternating narrators between the Mother and the four daughters.  Their world revolves around the father, but he is never really the center.  Instead it is the strength and weakness of the women that drive the story, not because the father is not important, but because he is unmovable.  So anything that happens has to happen in spite of him.

This is a book that should be read to understand cross cultural missions.  I know that most people are not nearly as dense as the father in this book.  But this does a good job of helping to show how much culture is embedded in our faith and how hard it is for us to see our own cultural pre-suppositions without some amount of cross cultural interaction.  Similarly, the language issues of bible translation and communication are well illustrated here.

Kingsolver, in the three books of hers that I have read always takes on deep issues.  But at least in the books I have read, the books is not about the issues, but about the story.  This is how art should be made. Art should be about deep and difficult things.  But not about pushing a particular agenda so overtly that the reader feels hit over the head.

This is not a pro or anti-Christian book.  None of the daughters are really Christian at the end of it.  But it is not really Christianity that has been rejected as much as it is their father.  Kingsolver does not seem to be against Christianity as a whole, but she is certainly against so parts of it.  Kingsolver herself grew up in the Congo in the 1960s where her father was a public health doctor.  She clearly says that this is not based on her life.  Her parents were very different.  But there is a note of authenticity.

Kingsolver also has a gift for beautiful writing.  This book reminds me of the lyrical writing of authors like Carolyn Weber or Madeline L’Engle.  I want to just bathe in the beautiful words.  I now want to pick up Kingsolver’s new book Flight Behavior.

The Poisonwood Bible Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

One Comment

I highly recommend this book as well. Good review.

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