Many of you who I have spoken with about favorite books and authors know that Barbara Kingsolver’s works are second to none. The Poisonwood Bible only solidified my love for Kingsolver and actually caused me to go out and plunder Half Priced Books for (almost) all of her books.
*Warning: minor spoilers ahead*
The Poisonwood Bible is about the Price family who travels to Africa so their father can take over a mission deep in the Congo. The village they are based in, Kilanga, serves as the setting for the majority of the book and is where the Prices explode out of their cliche “American-dream” mold into five unique, deep characters. Nathan, the Price family patriarch and Baptist minister who is the reason for the relocation to the Congo, is hellbent on converting all of Africa over to God-fearing Christians one remote village at a time. His wife (Orleanna) and his four daughters (Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May) are all dragged from Georgia to the Belgium Congo for Nathan’s mission. The book is told through the point of view of the five women with each chapter of the story alternating between characters. I really like the way Kingsolver did this because it allows the reader to see how different characters were affected by the same events. The one frustrating part is that sometimes the character you really want to know the point of view of on a certain part of the book is the one Kingsolver doesn’t give you.
The story gets off to a slow start (or maybe it is just the fact I always take forever to really get into a book) but as soon as I got a feel for the personalities of the characters I was in hook, line, and sinker. My favorite character by far was Adah. Her and Leah are twins and the connection the two of them have along with the transformation she goes through was the best subplot of the book. Of all the characters, Nathan is the most mysterious. The reader finds out precious little about how he is feeling about his mission and the backstory that made him the person he is during this time.
While the time in the Congo is interesting, I think that it is actually the last part of the book is the best. I felt as if I had been in Kilanga with the Prices and seen the girls grow up and mature in such a unique environment so to see how each of them responded once they had left was very important to the story. It completes the characters, so to speak. Kingsolver could very easily have stopped the book once the Prices were out of the Congo but she kept going and let the story come full circle. For one storyline in particular, this was extremely important. Although the way that storyline ended left something to be desired for me (kinda cheesy) it is kind of nice to have a feel good ending to a story.
The six Prices go through just about the entire book of stereotypical family feuding. The big twist is that all those feuds take place with the 1960’s Congo as the background. This setting solidifies Kingsolver as a great historical fiction writer as The Lacuna is written excellently during the Cold War. I confess that I did not know much of anything about the political events that happened in the Congo during that time so I had to use the handy-dandy Google search to understand the historical significance of some of the characters. I have always been a history buff so it was nice to learn about a new event and the context that Kingsolver’s characters gave to the historical events made it all the more interesting.
In all, I would highly recommend The Poisonwood Bible for anyone who enjoys a historical fiction written from a multiple first person point of view. Not only does Kingsolver do an excellent job of making the characters complex but the setting of the Belgium Congo made the story all the more interesting. From Kilanga to Atlanta and many places in between, Kingsolver’s settings are just as dynamic as the characters.
Let me know if you choose to pick up any of Kingsolver’s works, I would love to discuss them with you!