Monday, May 31, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible

Five Stars out of Five Stars
I have unsuccessfully tried to capture my reaction to Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” in half a dozen different opening lines. This is a book that demands more than “Read it. I know you’ll love it,” because it is not an easy read. This book tells the story of Africa, its politics, its beauty, and its power. It tells the story of people who live on next to nothing and the outsiders who took what little they had. It tells the story of a family – a mother, a father, and their four daughters who traveled from Bethlehem, Georgia to the Congo, to bring Christianity to the darkest corners of deepest Africa. Through the eyes of the Price family, Kingsolver’s epic unfolds, and the reader is left entranced and haunted by the whole experience.

“The Poisonwood Bible” is a subtlety-crafted masterpiece. “Poisonwood[’s]” story is woven in and out of Biblical contexts and jungle leaves. The historical lessons of the Congo are included as realities for our characters to the point that the Price family seems like they were really there when Belgium and the United States tried to take what was not theirs. The five distinct voices that tell our story are so unique that the reader could identify which Price woman is speaking even if her name was not included at the top of the page.

Including a message or moral is not new to the art of story telling, and yet most of the messages overrun the story being told. Kingsolver’s messages blend in like the lion waiting for Adah on her walk to the river. The reader does not realize what is being taught until we find ourselves completely knocked over and in awe of the horror and beauty of it all.

I am more than a decade behind in singing Barbara Kingsolver’s praises for this novel. It took me starting it and putting down the book a few times before I truly got into the story – but like the Prices, once Africa got a hold of me, I could never have gotten out. The book did not end the way I had hoped, but Kingsolver was not writing a morality tale. She was writing about life in the Congo. It is not meant to end with a Betty Crocker cake and smiles all around. Kingsolver’s narrators eloquently and haltingly tell us that, and like them, I will never be the same.


nikki said...

Jaclyn, this book deserves praises. It's one of my all-time favorites and it's probably the reason for why I'm always feeling out my personal connection or relationship with every country or continent I live in. Not just the people, but the land, how the land is lived on, and the "spirit" of the land as a whole.
So yeah, I love this book. :)

Shelley said...

The Poisonwood Bible is my favorite. book. ever. I think it's the book that made me realize how much I don't like fairy tale happy endings, and how much I love tragically just endings.