Friday, November 5, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Perhaps I shouldn't write about this book while I'm still under its spell, but I can't resist. This is my first Kingsolver book. She is one of the authors I had promised myself I would read when I retired. I was reminded of her again when we watched a documentary series about the Appalachians that she appeared in a few months ago, and then I saw this book at a book sale.

Poisonwood is an African plant that gives a person an itchy rash like poison ivy. The Price family from Georgia discovers its power shortly after arriving in Congo where Rev. Price has accepted a post in a small village. Price is a hellfire and damnation preacher who thinks he will save everyone in the village and turn their lives around but his brand of Christianity simply doesn't make any sense to the villagers who are happy the way they are thank you very much. For instance, he intends to baptise each one of them in the river, a la John the Baptist, but no way are they going into the river where crocodiles live. He thinks God will protect them; they know people who have been eaten.

Price is accompanied by his wife and four daughters and they tell the story. You get the point of view of each one according to her position in the family, her personality, and her intelligence. It's a wonderful way to really know what goes on. The wife has committed herself to her husband's mission in life and believes in it - until Africa. The daughters are Rachel, a self-absorbed teenager who speaks like Mrs. Malaprop, Leah, the family tomboy who most wants to please her father but never can, her twin Adah, the one who was born crippled and with half a brain because Leah took the nutrition she needed to fully develop but she's the smartest one, and finally little Ruth May who wants to be a big green snake in a tree overlooking everyone.

The best thing about the book is that these become like flesh and blood people, never just characters on paper. Each goes her own way despite natural disasters, war, Congo getting its freedom from Belgium, drought, a plague of driver ants, and tragedy. I learned a lot of the history of the Congo (which is now Zaire) while following the family on their path, and about the land itself, crops, natural forces, and the native people. This is a long book but that's because it needs to be to tell the whole story. I've been engrossed in it for several days, at first reading slowly to enjoy Kingsolver's prose, and then faster and faster as I got totally involved in what was happening.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. I am an Amazon Associate.

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