Over the summer, my mom suggested I borrow her copy of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and give it a read. She told me I would like it because of the strong female characters and relationships, the descriptive writing, etc.
My mom was right, as per usual.
The novel is told through the alternating perspectives of Rachel, Leah, Adah, Ruth May, and Orleanna Price, the daughters and wife of Nathan Price, a strict minister from Georgia. The family travels into the Congo, Nathan Price determined on converting the people of Africa to Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the six of them meet a number of challenges along the way, and are forced to reconsider family, religion, and life itself.
Each of the sisters have a distinct voice and personality that shines through in each chapter. Rachel, the oldest, is a romantic girl who just wants to get back home to America. She is materialistic and vain, but clearly cares more about the family than she lets on. Leah is more headstrong and tomboy-ish, idolizing her father first, then later reconsidering his ways of teaching. Adah is Leah’s twin, who was born with a defect that causes one side of her body to lag behind. She is extremely intelligent but almost never speaks, and offers the reader a more self-aware view on the family. Ruth May is the youngest, and has an innocent demeanor to her. Their mother, Orleanna, only speaks occasionally, with pain and maturity. While the dialogue in the book is lacking, Kingsolver compensates by strengthening each character’s voice and bolsts her descriptions.
This book handles the topic of religious invasion and racism with grace, fortunately. While Nathan Price is clearly carried away and cruel, he gets exactly what is coming to him. The interactions between the Prices and the citizens of the Congo is extremely accurate, balancing the good intentions of the family with their own ignorance.
However, The Poisonwood Bible is not without downfalls. As the novel continues, it gets proceedingly more political, which can distract from the more character-heavy plot established earlier. The ending is also a bit drawn-on, adding unnecessary chapters and hardly developed subplots for the sake of a longer book. Luckily, Kingsolver more than compensates.
Overall, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a powerful and moving story told by strong women, and handles difficult issues with taste. The writing is moving, the plotline is clever, and it is definitely worth a read for anyone looking for a longer novel to take on.