The Poisonwood Bible book review

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver is a fiction novel. Through the voices of five women she tells the dramatic story of life as an American in Africa. Beginning in the sixties and spanning five decades we see the coming of age of four girls and their mother who were brought to the Congo by their passionate, eccentric, missionary father.

I could relate to the book on so many levels. Though it is not necessarily a book I would draw my theology from it gave me cause to pause and consider what I do, why I do it, what I believe and why I believe it.

As a Christian… I was challenged to see how much of our ‘doctrine’ is drawn from cultural practices.

As a woman… I became more aware of the complexities the female creature presents. Also, the strength and capacity to endure possessed by womankind.

As a missionary… My emotions ranged from appalled to amazed to embarrassed to enraged. The general concept of a missionary portrayed in the pages was basically everything wrong to do in missions.

As a mother… The truth resounded in my heart that we, as mothers, do the very best we know to do. We strive, sacrifice and suffer to the end of feeling that all we have done is not good enough. The sweet dark African husband Anatole to his dear white wife and mother of their children says as he is being taken to prison, “Be kind to yourself.” That is speaking the truth in love.

As a wife… I am deeply grateful for the good, kind husband who I have at my side. Words cannot express my gratitude.

As a writer… The imagery is fabulous. The rich language with meanings that twist around two or three intended purposes whetted my appetite to write. She had me laughing, crying and throwing my hands up in frustration. To be able to move people like that with my writing would be so satisfying.

As an inhabitant of a third world country… The unending political struggles hit so close to home. The truth is that not everyone wants to be rich. Universally the need to have our life matter is what our struggle to survives drives us towards.

Overall I enjoyed reading the book. I would recommend it for those who do not have a weak stomach and are wanting to grapple with deep soulful things.


29 thoughts on “The Poisonwood Bible book review

  1. Angie,
    Thank you for the review of this book! I’ve wondered about it for awhile, but it did sound like some of it was going to be infuriating, and I didn’t know if it was worth the effort of sifting through all that.

    Sounds like it is. (Your endorsement helped, too, Alece.) Off to Amazon I go. :)

  2. I agree with you! The book was very well written and draws you into the characters and setting. I found it very disturbing as well – missiologically like you said, emotionally too… You’re so right about cultural practices affecting our doctrine and about how they did everything ‘wrong’ so to speak mission wise. Growing up in Africa, there were parts that were very nostalgic for me.

  3. I read this book many years ago, this review makes me want to dig it out again!
    I remember loving how the writer changes writing styles with each character.
    I appreciated your take on it Angie, thanks.

  4. @Steph – Worth it? Yes.

    @Julie – I can imagine that you could relate to much of the culture described in the book.

    @Carin – The change is narrator voice was so amazing. I especially liked Rachel’s ability to turn a phrase; or should I say turn around a phrase. And then Adah’s progressive growth evidenced in her retelling was most marked.

  5. I need to probably start finding books on audio file…I’m in my car so much that I really should start listening to things other than campaign politics!

  6. What a wonderful review of this novel @ngie. I haven’t read it but it was really interesting to hear about the ways you were affected by it. I was interested in two parts especially, where you said, as a Christian, “I was challenged to see how much of our ‘doctrine’ is drawn from cultural practices,” and also as a woman, “I became more aware of the complexities the female creature presents.” I would love to know more about your thoughts with these – this is where it would be great to meet up for coffee :), but if you had a minute to email me, I’d be really interested. God bless.

  7. @Brandy – Oh, a trip to the library sounds lovely!

    @Libby Lu – My Aunt checks out audio books from the library. I also have a friend that downloads audio books from online and puts like on his iPod.

    @Faith – I wold love to hear what you think about it.

    @Ellie – Thanks for your comment. :-)

    @Birgit – Sitting down and talking about literature with you over a cup of coffee sounds heavenly. I will get an email off to you. What are you reading at this time?

  8. Hi @ngie, I will look forward to it, that’s great!
    My Mum gave me a book for my birthday which is ‘The Last Storyteller’ by Diane Noble. I have just started it, and am really enjoying it so far :)

  9. Your comment about money is interesting because of the financial state of affairs in the states… everyone is freaking out… yet even when our economy is strong, do you ever hear anyone complain, “Gosh, I have so much money, I just don’t know what to do with it?” Having had an opportunity to do some, not much, but some 3rd world travel I can’t help but think our worst in the states collectively would be the dream for so many. Makes a weight on my heart. Prompts prayer for you and your good work.


    PS: Thanks for the kuddos on my new digs.

  10. @Roxx – Your prayers are greatly appreciated. Thank you. You mention the worst in the States being the dream for a person in a 3rd world country. But that is just the point, most people in these types of countries do not have dreams for buku bucks. Their dreams focus more around acceptance, peace in the village and enough food to grow and feed their family.

  11. This book is one of my all time favorites…I loved the writing style –each chapter being one of the female voices. Did you have a favorite? My favorite voice –the mother’s, Orleanna. I felt it was the mother who got ‘missions’ right. It has been years since I read it but the most poignant moments are easily recalled–the World’s Fair plate, the ants, the youngest daughter’s snake bite (‘until that moment I’d always believed I could still go home and pretend the Congo never happened’) and first chapter of the Exodus section (‘I walked to the end of our village and kept going…’)
    I have seen versions of this story play out in ministry and family life…that’s its appeal (and not its repulsion) to me.
    “Fiction reveals what reality obscures”–Jessamyn West.

  12. @Cindy – For the first half of the book I was greatly amused by Rachel’s perspective and her phrases. But then I came to love Leah’s spunk and how driven she was. Her character was my favorite at this time in my life. The quote you shared in poignant. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Angie,

    I don’t know you, but reading your blog and your comments section, I am impressed with what a good communicator you are! You send just the few seconds it takes to answer every comment. That is a nice thing. Good job!

  14. Angie – WOW! That’s a fantastic review! It doesn’t sound like my kind of book (no offense to anyone who loves and/or will love it!), but I really loved your review! I wish I could have reviews like that on every book I’m thinking about reading. Fabulous!

  15. @Annie – Maybe I should reconsider my profession and be a famous reviewer of literature for some hoity-toity news-paper or magazine and make a bunch of dough. That would be a fun job. :-)

    @Michelle – You are welcome. :-)

  16. I loved this book… in fact… I would say it should be read by everyone on the mission field… or with a heart for missions. I also love what you drew from the story about motherhood… when you said, “The truth resounded in my heart that we, as mothers, do the very best we know to do. We strive, sacrifice and suffer to the end of feeling that all we have done is not good enough.”… my heart said… yup, I know exactly what she’s saying.

  17. angie, i just had to comment that i have been fascinated with the “change in narrator” method kingsolver uses. this seems to be unique?? i can’t think of another book i’ve read where this is utilzed in this way. it’s almost like a series of monologues so far?? i’m to the part where the maid/servant leaves. and Nathan is feeling that his before ways of adapting to the villagers has brought upon himself the judgment of God.

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