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# Book Order

The Poisonwood Bible (Paperback)

As any reader of The Mosquito Coast knows, men who drag their families to far-off climes in pursuit of an Idea seldom come to any good, while those familiar with At Play in the Fields of the Lord or Kalimantaan understand that the minute a missionary sets foot on the fictional stage, all hell is about to break loose. So when Barbara Kingsolver sends missionary Nathan Price along with his wife and four daughters off to Africa in The Poisonwood Bible, you can be sure that salvation is the one thing theyre not likely to find. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: “We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle,” says Leah, one of Nathans daughters. But of course it isnt long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and theyve arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathans fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?
In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathans intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctors animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each members fortune across a span of more than 30 years.
The Poisonwood Bible is arguably Barbara Kingsolvers most ambitious work, and it reveals both her great strengths and her weaknesses. As Nathan Prices wife and daughters tell their stories in alternating chapters, Kingsolver does a good job of differentiating the voices. But at times they can grate–teenage Rachels tendency towards precious malapropisms is particularly annoying (students practice their “French congregations”; Nathans refusal to take his family home is a “tapestry of justice”). More problematic is Kingsolvers tendency to wear her politics on her sleeve; this is particularly evident in the second half of the novel, in which she uses her characters as mouthpieces to explicate the complicated and tragic history of the Belgian Congo.
Despite these weaknesses, Kingsolvers fully realized, three-dimensional characters make The Poisonwood Bible compelling, especially in the first half, when Nathan Price is still at the center of the action. And in her treatment of Africa and the Africans she is at her best, exhibiting the acute perception, moral engagement, and lyrical prose that have made her previous novels so successful. –Alix Wilber

Essays on life, the world, and a snail transported to Tucson.

Although The Poisonwood Bible takes place in the former Belgian Congo and begins in 1959 and ends in the 1990s, Barbara Kingsolvers powerful new book is actually an old-fashioned 19th-century novel, a Hawthornian tale of sin and redemption and the dark necessity of history. The novels central character, a fiery evangelical missionary named Nathan Price, is part Roger Chillingworth, the coldhearted, judgmental villain of Hawthornes Scarlet Letter, and part Ahab, Melvilles monomaniacal captain who risks his life and the lives of those closest to him in pursuit of his obsessive vision. Narrated in alternating chapters by Nathans wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May, The Poisonwood Bible begins with the arrival of the Price family in the remote Congolese village of Kilanga, a tiny cluster of mud houses devoid of all the ordinary amenities of life back home in the easy land of ice cream cones and new Keds sneakers and We Like Ike. Moving fluently from one point of view to another, Ms. Kingsolver does a nimble job of delineating the Price girls responses to Africa and their fathers decision to uproot them.

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