Just a quick note about scheduling, before I get to The Poisonwood Bible: looking ahead, March has only four Fridays, but April has five, one of which is April 1st. To make sure we stay closer to the end of the month than the beginning, I won’t be posting about March’s books until 3/11 and 3/25 for The Appointment by Herta Muller and 3/18 and 4/1 for Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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Now. On to The Poisonwood Bible. I will start by warning that spoilers are fair game here and in the comments, so if you haven’t read The Poisonwood Bible, beware!

I have to say, I was deeply impressed by the novel, and it drew me in completely. The number of characters Kingsolver developed, the number of issues she tackled, and the story into which she rolled them all just blew me away. I don’t think it would’ve been possible for me to take in everything Kingsolver did the first time I read The Poisonwood Bible; I know some parts stood out to me in particular. I’m quite interested to see which areas stood out most for each of you.

The characters were the first thing I noticed and the piece that carried me through to the last page. I mentioned this aspect in the discussion post for The Poisonwood Bible, but I’ll do so again here. Each daughter was so very unique, but believably so. I loved their different interests, the way each saw the world, even their particular styles of narrating. I kept changing my mind about which girl’s voice was my favorite; eventually I gave up and recognized that they’re all pretty amazingly written. I’m glad Kingsolver let us see the remaining Price girls grow up. I would not have been able to imagine each girl’s future on my own, but the directions they went seemed to suit them to perfection. The distance between Leah and Rachel was, for me, especially striking, as they were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum of American involvement in Africa. By the end of the book, I just wanted to slap Rachel every time her chapters came around!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (cover)Of the many themes Kingsolver introduces, religion stood out most strongly for me. It permeated the book, so that even the structure was based on it. Religion started the whole story off, landing the Price family in the Congo as missionaries. It also wrapped the story up, with each girl finding her own equivalent of or replacement for religion. Even that very last chapter, the only one without a name assigned to it, had a spiritual slant to it. I was fascinated to see Reverend Price’s strict Christianity bump against the local religion as well as Brother Fowles’s own brand of Christianity. I liked hearing about each girl’s take on religion and spirituality as she considered what she saw in the world around her and seeing how the views of each evolved. I think religion served well as a lens through which the characters approached the Congo.

I also learned much more than I would have expected about the Congo in the 1960s (and after): history, politics, culture, society, environment, even language. I knew pretty much nothing going in, but now I feel like I have a sense of what it might have been like. I certainly didn’t realize the huge and sinister role played by the US in the Congo’s recent history. I also never realized the size of the gap between Africans and foreigners so clearly delineated by Rachel and her life path. There is something about being set down in a place, witnessing a story and spending time with people, whether real or imagined, that brings to life for me places and situations I find difficult to understand through more abstract approaches. Reading The Poisonwood Bible gave me plenty to explore.

In short: I really loved this book! Thank you, reading buddies, for nudging me to finally pick it up and reading it along with me.

Now I’m wondering what other fiction set in Africa–or anywhere in the world, really–I might enjoy as much (and that might transport and teach me as thoroughly) as Kingsolver’s novel. Any suggestions, reading buddies?

Other participants (if I missed you, let me know!):

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  1. So glad you enjoyed this book! I avoided it for so long because it seemed so “Oprah-y”, but finally decided to give it a try late last year. I loved it too… Thought it was wonderful in all aspects, and really helped me learn a little something about the world.

  2. I really liked it! At first once Orleana and Adah left the Congo, I thought the book was almost over (I was reading the eBook version)..but I’m glad it went on for another 150 pages or so to make sense of Ruth May’s death.

    I agree, I thought that Kingsolver did some wonderful character development with each of the girls–and like you, Erin, I hated Rachel (she was so annoying and rude), but I think Kingsolver wanted us to do that. Even though I didn’t really enjoy when the mother spoke to us, I wish there had been more of her passages towards the very end.

    I’m really glad I got to read this with y’all! I hope to put up a review by the end of next week. Thanks, Erin!

  3. I am so glad to hear that you loved this one, as did I. I think that the way that Kingsolver wrote the book from alternating viewpoints was rather eclectic and interesting, and I too couldn’t stand Rachel. I enjoyed reading your thoughts as you traveled your way through this book!

  4. For ficition set in other countries that you learn a lot from
    Anything (besides her mysteries-which I have not read) by Gail Tsyukiama (Japan)
    Lisa See has a few (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love) (Japan)
    The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (Vietnam-from the viewpoint of a female war photpgrapher)
    Matterhorn (Vietnam-from the viewpoint of a soldier)

  5. I read this book a bunch of years ago, but I still think about it often. It is superbly written and, as far as I can tell, much different from Kingsolver’s other books. I feel in love with the characters and desperately wanted them to make it out of the Congo–despite their crazy father.

    Someday, I’ll reread this book. It’s that good!

  6. This is one of my favourites too. IIRC, it took her a remarkably long time to write this novel because she wrote the entire book from each of the character’s perspectives — and then had to go back and edit so that it appeared to rotate between them — so that she could fully understand each woman’s point-of-view. I thought that was amazing!

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