Synopsis (via Goodreads):
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
It’s taken me quite a while to put together a review for The Poisonwood Bible because I’ve been having a difficult time sorting out my opinions of it. I absolutely loved some aspects of it, but at other times, the book just wasn’t doing it for me.
What I Loved
I loved the characters. Well, I despised some of them–but I loved the way they were developed.
Since the four daughters (Rachel, Adah, Leah, and Ruth May) and their mother take turns narrating the story, I really got to know them, with their own distinct voices and personalities. Although all five of them were living together in a house in a tiny village in Congo, under the domineering rule of the man of the family, they all had remarkably different experiences there–and even their shared hardships and tragedies were processed in their own unique ways.
I also loved the details of the story. The first half of the book especially was overflowing with detail. What would a family of privileged, white, conservative Christians from Georgia think of life in a poor, rural Congo village? We get to see exactly what each member of the family (except Nathan) notice: the animals, the sounds and smells, the people, the way nature works in Congo.
Finally, I loved the overarching message of the novel as a whole: you just can’t go in to an entirely different culture and try to force your ways on them. All of the women in the Price family come to realize this, and they even begin to question their own beliefs.
What I Didn’t Love
I found the pacing of the book to be rather unbalanced. The first half, when the girls are children, moves much more slowly. We get a lot of detail about their daily lives and the little experiences they have–which is necessary, I think, to establish the foreignness of their new life. The second half, however, takes great leaps in time–months, even years–and so much happens that major events only referenced or skimmed over. It felt as though the author was rushing to finish the story. I had expected the book to end much sooner than it did.
Overall, I enjoyed this story because it gave me a lot to think about, and it greatly increased my interest in Congo’s history and liberation.