Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Over the four-day winter break from school, I finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Not only finished it - but could barely put it down in the process.  Kingsolver's format in writing about the Prices, missionaries to the Congo, is to tell the story through the eyes of the five women in the family--the mother and the four girls, one voice speaking in each chapter.

This fictional Southern Baptist family went to the Congo in 1959, and the story is epic in that it covers the next three decades of their lives.  The overbearing, disconnected, and abusive minister father causes great and lasting harm to all of the family members.  The heart of the story covers the first couple of years of their tenure in Congo, although the repercussions continue throughout the rest of the book.  The events of the Price family parallel the events of the liberation of the Congo from Belgium in that time period, as aided by the U.S.
Many reviews have been written about this book, which was an Oprah's Book Club listing in 1998.  Most reviews written from a conservative perspective include the problems with the secular philosophy in the book - men are bad, women are good, native people are happier if you leave them alone, missionarying is wrong, etc.  I saw all of that.

However, what I really saw in this book was yet another example of the concept that everyone writes according to the laws of God that are written on our hearts, whether we acknowledge them or not.  Kingsolver in no way writes as a Christian author.  Yet her book illustrates these principles:

  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath.
  • Husbands, love your wives.
  • Pride goes before a fall.
  • A father's responsibility is to protect his family.
  • A husband and father who treats his family with disrespect and abuse will lose them.
  • Deep wounds can cause a lifetime of regrets and sadness.

. . .and many more as well.

Kingsolver is a master of characterization, and each girl spoke with a distinctively individual voice.  There were a few small objectionable elements; however, a mature reader could get past those issues to see the deeper issues that make reading this book worthwhile.  I could not easily follow all the historical information about the Belgium/Congo/US issues; however, I found the book to be gripping and moving, mainly due to Kingsolver's outstanding writing.

1 comment:

Barbara H. said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this. I've never read this author and heard she was quite good, but whenever I looked at plot summaries of this I wasn't sure if it was something I wanted to read or not. I found the same thing, that writers bring out Christian principles even if they don't write from a Christian viewpoint, in other books as well - was especially surprised to see them in The Picture of Dorian Gray.