The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
ISBN: 0061577073 ISBN-13: 978-0061577079
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (June 10, 2008)
Originally Published: 1998
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I have seen some people describe this book as feminist (well Barbara Kingsolver is a feminist) but I don't feel like it was heavy handed feminism. The style of the book is revolving viewpoints. Switching each chapter to the viewpoint of one of the different daughters.
A quick plot overview, a family goes on a mission trip to the Congo, the husband, Nathan Price a fundamentalist baptist minister, his wife Orleanna, and their four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. With each chapter we get a viewpoint from one of the different daughters (with a handful of chapters giving the viewpoint of the wife Orleanna).
This is one of those stories which shows the plights of people who are used to first world comforts trying to adjust to life in the Congo where they don't even have running water. The story takes place right before the "Congo Crisis" takes place and leads into that civil strife that occurs when that launches.
So with that let me launch into the characters.
Nathan Price is the father in the family. He is a Baptist preacher and an extremely evangelical one at that. He fiercely preaches the word of God and is on a mission to save every person that he can. He tends to rule the family with an iron fist and expects them to walk with God. His character is one of the few that does not change in this book.
Orleanna is the mother of the family. Through much of the book she is the good wife that follows her husbands orders without question. She undergoes changes as the Congo begins to get to her, and towards the end of the novel we see her become very independent from her husband. She is a generally strong woman, but she is kept restrained for most of the early parts of the novel.
The oldest daughter. She is the "perfect" one. Mostly in looks. She isn't portrayed as a particularly intelligent person, but she definitely is the best looker of the family. She is also the most vain of anyone in the family and spends a lot of time concerned about her appearance. We hear a lot of complaining from her when they move to the Congo for the mission trip and she doesn't have those comforts that she used to have in the US. She changes a fair bit through the story, and especially towards the end she becomes a very different person.
Technically the next oldest daughter, but she is the twin of Adah Price. Leah is one of the more complex characters in this novel. Towards the beginning of the book she is pretty much a daddy's girl and likes to follow him around when he's working. She also does her best to be a perfectly studious disciple of the Bible and does everything she can to make her father happy. She is one of the more intelligent of the bunch but at first worries a lot about being accepted. Towards the middle and the end of the novel we see her take charge of her life quite a bit and not worry about being accepted so much.
Probably my favorite character in the book. Adah is a twin with Leah but Adah was born with hemiplegia. She is easily the most intelligent of the group, but she keeps all of her intelligence to herself. She is witty and insightful. She struggles a lot with feeling like the "damaged goods" of the family.
She reads and writes the most of anyone in the family, and is quickly shown as the least religious of the bunch. She has a much more rational view of the world, and quickly falls away from trying to please her father. I always loved coming to chapters that were from her viewpoint. She is kind of quirky and pithy which I like.
The youngest daughter of the family. The baby. She is treated much as the baby. One great thing about Ruth May early on is her ability to adjust the easiest to the new Congo environment. While everyone else is self-conscious about being the only white people around, Ruth May is easily able to make friends and even pick up the language of the area fairly quickly. This is one of the great things about children, they are completely unprejudiced and are able to pick things up so quickly.
This book focuses a lot on the daughters in the family. In fact I think there are only a few chapters which go to the viewpoint of Orelanna, the wife, and there are no chapters at all from Nathan Price's viewpoint. The four daughters are so different in personality that it offers a great insight from different sides of the situations that are happening in the Congo.
I very much recommend this book. It provides a great look into the nature of differing cultures and how different cultures often have trouble accepting one another. There is a strong religious background to the book, since the main premise is that the father is a Baptist minister on a mission to convert everyone, but it isn't in your face Christianity. Instead, we get to see the battling forces of the native religions and this new religion trying to take over.
There is a little bit of political focus since this book does take place just before, during, and after the Congo Crisis, but the book itself is not overly political. Really it focuses more on the culture challenges of the regions. So pick it up if you have a chance, it's a great read!