It has been years since I have read a Barbara Kingsolver book. I recall that I may have really liked The Bean Trees, as well as Animal Dreams (since those seem to be the Kingsolver books that everyone reads), so when I saw The Poisonwood Bible at a used book store for a good price, I was more than happy to pick it up.
I was not disappointed, but I wasn’t blown away either.
The Poisonwood Bible is about The Price family – mother, father and four young daughters, who move to the Belgian Congo in 1959 as Baptist missionaries. The book follows the family as they try to settle into the Congo. Small setbacks soon turn into large catastrophes and the family starts to fall apart.
I’d say that the book could have almost been divided into two. The first half was about the families hindrances and obstacles (mostly dealing with a violent, extremely troubled, evangelical father), and the second half revolved mostly around the political side of the Congo (Africa’s fight for independence from Belgium, the assassination of their first elected Prime Minister, secret CIA coups, etc.). Although I was very interested in where they would end up in the end of the book, I was somewhat bored by the political talk. To me, it almost became too preachy and less about the story.
I was very interested in reading the lives of these young women as they made names for themselves in the world – whether they did it well or not. The writing style that Kingsolver used allowed the reader to get very involved with each character. In the end, I liked Leah best (as I know Kingsolver was aiming for). I almost feel like I could have had less of the other girls and more of Leah - but we need the others to understand Leah fully, just as we couldn’t understand Rachel, Ruth May or Adah without her. Leah was the most rounded out character, and the least annoying to read.
Rachel. Dear lord. What a pitiful character. Not only because Kingsolver seemed to force her into such a vain, ignorant, self-absorbed character, but because she was such a vain, ignorant, self-absorbed character. I wanted to tell Kingsolver that I understood what she was trying to do, not every other sentence had to be about Rachel’s nails, or hair, or clothing. She was vain. I get it.
The entire time I was reading The Poisonwood Bible I was reminded of the year I spent working with Burundi refugees. It made me remember that we had to be very conscious about what we were teaching or asking them. For example, trying to teach the words “arm” or “leg” caused many to burst into tears because they had survived by hiding beneath body parts of their own family members during the war.
This line especially stood out to me:
“Why must some of us deliberate between brands of toothpaste, while others deliberate between damp dirt and bone dust to quiet the fire of an empty stomach lining?”
This book made me remember what is truly important in people’s lives. For some it is toothpaste and for others it is freedom.
Puts your life into perspective.
On to reading!