February 16, 2013

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is one I've kind of sat and thought about for awhile.  Which usually means good things about a book.  And normally it does, but I bounced back and forth between liking this book and not caring for it at all.  But I think it had more to do with the writing than the subject matter for the most part.

When a brash commanding Reverend decides that he needs to be a Missionary, he forces his four children and wife to move out to the Congo with him where he starts preaching at the local people and expecting them to conform to his will.  There they must struggle to live in a way they are unaccustomed. to until something tragic happens.  And this tragedy will effect each of them in a different way and have them choose different courses for their lives.

Obviously, the father Nathan, is not a sympathetic character in this book.  The other characters can't stand him and he is portrayed as a tyrant.  But Kingsolver is also careful to throw in the bit about him being injured in the army in there.  It's well known that soldiers don't always come back the same person they left as in a war and it's quite a possibility that Nathan was changed in a way.  So it leaves it to the reader to see whether or not he actually is a sympathetic character when weighing everything that has happened to him.  The mother, Orleanna, I can't say I thought about much one way or the other.  She was squashed down by Nathan and I dare say it left her with her own world in her head.  Sure she took care of her kids, but there had to be some sort of escape for her and she does fade in and out in the book.  The daughters were all distinct although you had to like some more than others.  Rachel was too prissy and probably not a favorite of anyone.  Adah was strange and hard to connect to, although she got better as the book progressed.  Leah was probably the easiest character to become connected to, as she wanted to stand up for what she believed as right.  And Ruth May is a young child filled with curiosity.

There is a definitely stance on what Kingsolver believes in this book.  Her view on politics and Africa is expressly stated through the actions of her characters.  And she sheds a very sympathetic eye on the plight of Africa itself and a not so sympathetic tone with the foreign countries who mingle their affairs with it.  And it would appear that she had to have had a bad experience with a reverend or missionary with the true terror she makes Nathan.  Although there is a good missionary that appears in the book now and then.  The writing itself is what I had trouble with.  Kingsolver has a very poetic, descriptive way of writing and that's not the problem.  The problem is that there is just way too much of it in this book.  It could have easily been half this size and still told a good story.  But after awhile I had to put the book down just to take a break because it seemed repetitive.  And I enjoyed the latter half with the girls grown up than the previous half that detailed their first year in the Congo.  It was just too slow paced for me.

An interesting book and definitely one that you could tell the author did her research on.  I don't know much about the politics of the Congo/Zaire itself, but I'd hazard to guess that Kingsolver probably did adequate research there as well.  I think I still prefer her non-fiction though and would give this book a solid 3.5 stars.

The Poisonwood Bible
Copyright 1998
543 pages

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