Posted by: ashburnreviews | August 10, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible

9780060930530 A week or so ago I finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver on my iPhone.

From the book jacket, this is the description:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture–is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

This wasn’t the first time that I read The Poisonwood Bible. The first time I read this book was shortly after it had been published – which I believe was in 2005.

But from what I can gather, this – the most recent read – was the first time that I finished The Poisonwood Bible. Because for the life of me I cannot remember anything past the chapter called What We Carried Out.

Falsely, what I did recall from the first time that I read the book was that the first part of the book I enjoyed every much (although I wouldn’t be able to tell you when that first part ended); But after that part, I did not like it, but that I went ahead and trudged through the 2nd part of the book and finished reading it because I thought that the story line within the book would redeem itself. My memory is that not only did I finish the book, but that the storyline never did infact redeem itself.

Now of course, since I cannot remember the last part of the book from my previous reading – I have no idea where the above memory of the book reading experince came from. I don’t know if that first time I just gave up reading and forgot, or if I had blocked out the last part of the story somehow? Maybe I was just so glad that they were getting out of the village that I didn’t really care what happened next… I don’t know.

While the first part of the book – the hog share of it – focused on the family within the Congo, the last part of the book (the part that escapes my memory) completely changed direction and covered what happens when time keeps on moving on and people get older and grow up, and how the events from the first part of the book affected everyone for the rest of their lives.

Anyhow… this was a monster of a book. The printed addition had 700 some odd pages. Even with the sour ending, I am glad I read the book. It was an interesting read. Barbara Kingsolver did an excellent job of developing the characters. It was easy to see what peoples’ motivations were for the things that they did. I liked reading about the cultural misunderstandings as well. Where you come from affects how you act in situtations, and how you feel about them as they happen to you. Your past has to affect you in that way – it is how people survive.

And also I love a good missionary narrative because it is so interesting and forgein to me. (Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes was also about missionaries.) In all frankness -a missionary’s “job” just doesn’t make sense to me. As I understand it, to prevent people from going to hell, missionary’s go seek out people who don’t know about hell so that they can teach them how to avoid it.

I should say that I know some people believe missionary work is what they are destined to do and they feel like they are saving souls in the process – and for this reason I mostly respect these people because their heart seems to be in the right place. If you are able to save some one from danger and you don’t, what type of person are you? But it is the whole idea behind the issue that they are trying to help with that seems off-kilter to me. I just don’t understand why a religion that would punish people who were born into a life where they didn’t know “the truth” -whatever that may be. That being said I like reading about missionaries.

I also like stories that put people who don’t belong in a specific situation in that situation. How would so-and-so would act if he were here.

This book captures both ideas really well. Here is why the missionary and his family went somewhere that they probably shouldn’t have been in the first place. And here is what happened when they did. It makes a good story. Sort of like watching a train wreck. I particularly liked reading about the items that the family picked to take with them to the Congo.

But then – in the latter half of the book – after those that leave the small village in the Congo, leave, and the book hits the point where I cannot recall reading anymore, I did unfortunately loose most of my interest in the story. I just didn’t care as much at that point.
I think that I would have rathered imagain the events that happened to these people later in life myself then read what “really happened”. It was all rather sad I think.

I should note that I did think overall this was a good book. And the copy I have from reading in in paper back years ago will remain on my bookshelf.

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