Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review for You - The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
3 Stars
This was an intense read to say the least. I mean, the book literally just kind of kept chugging along. And parts would kind of just jump out and hit you in the face and make you feel miserable. Others would make you sit down and think really long and hard.

It was my first Kingsolver book and while it was a good one, and while I will say a very important book in feminist literature, I’m not going to call it a favorite or anything. It’s the story of the Price Family who is lead by their preacher father, Nathan, to the Congo in 1960 to head up the mission there in the small village of Kilanga. The four daughters (Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May, in order of age) could not be more different from one another and each speak in their own voice throughout the novel. Nathan is ALL about the Bible and thinks they’ve literally come to the darkest Africa to save these savages from themselves and his whole goal is to baptize every last one of the villagers in the river. Little does he know that the likelihood of that happening is next to zero thanks to the friendly crocodiles that the villagers are rightfully afraid of. I think one recently at one of the villagers actually. Good luck Father Price! Not to mention the fact that they have their own values and customs and religion and do not need some white savior to come in to rescue them. Nathan Price is a violent man and pig-headed and refuses to accept the fact that his mission is a failure. His wife, Orleanna, tries her best not to step on his toes until she realizes that staying in the Congo will probably mean the end of her family, in a very very real sense.
Living in the Congo changes each of the daughters in ways they could not imagine and it’s really a story of them growing up and apart from one another and out of the shadow of their boorish father. So the theme was certainly intriguing, and that’s why I say it was certainly a feminist read. And the way it was set up was unique. Each chapter was in a different point of view. One would be from Leah’s, then Adah’s, etc. Also each section of the book opened from the point of view of their mother, as if she’s trying to explain to them how she could have lived with such an abusive and horrible man such as their father. Those are very interesting from a psychological perspective.

Of course, it has a lot of xenophobia and sexism intentionally mixed in. The story takes so many different routes throughout its many pages it’s kind of hard to nail down. I think the main problem I had with it was that Kingsolver did not seem to know where she wanted to end it, or how she wanted to end. It. The majority of the book is about the family’s time at the mission just before the Congo declared independence and shortly thereafter. But then it kept dragging on for another 150 pages and I think kept going until the late 1980s. I understand that Kingsolver was trying to bring the reader up to date on the struggles in Africa and the girls’ journeys but I felt it tedious at many points. The last chapters were basically the daughters giving their own opinions on things, as it should be with this kind of book I think, but really the only one I found that added anything to the novel was Rachel’s chapter. Since she was basically one-note during the whole book I think her final chapter gave a new insight into her, otherwise it was more of the same from every other character. Another reason it dragged down at the end.

So it was disappointing that I couldn’t rate this book higher, having heard so many great things about it. Not that I didn’t like it, I did. I just felt it could have been, should have been, better.


Tyraa said...

Hi there! Just stopping by and love the blog&Following.
Hope you can visit mine sometime :)


Jennifer O. said...

I've always wondered what this book was about; I've heard so many glowing reviews... Right now I'm reading a book similar to it (perhaps derivative). It's called Amaryllis in Blueberry and it's about a man who takes his family to Turtle (The Bean Trees Novels), but I have never read any of her adult fiction. Great review! Thanks!

llevinso said...

Thanks Jenny.
One thing I forgot to mention in my review was that the overwhelming majority of the book was descriptive narrative. There's really not much dialogue. And that slowed things down a lot. It's very well written of course, but for a lot of people that can be a turn off.

Crimesleuthjunkie said...

Couldn't help but smile when I read at the top of the page about Classics and Shelfari. I loved this review because you told it exactly how you felt reading it. What is rather ironic, at least for me was about their steadfast belief that they came to save these savages from themselves completely blinded to the fact that these people had their own values, religion and customs and did not need some white man to rescue them. And of course, with the father being pig-headed and violent is not a recipe for saving souls. As you said llevinso, if you wanted this book just for the take on it's psychological perspective no disappointment there plus all the twists and turns and intrigue makes it a worthy book for all to enjoy. An awesome review, ...:), Rita

Man of la Books said...

I haven't read this book and it always sounded interesting but it never called my name. Hopefully I'll eventually read it even though, to be honest, I don't know if I'd like it.

I'm a new follower, found you through bookblogs.ning


llevinso said...

Thanks for the follow Man of la books. I like your blog!
I was alwasy told I HAD to read this book, and I'm glad I did but I definitely see that it's not for everyone. An important book but not a favorite.

Teacher/Learner said...

Oh, that's too bad you didn't like it better. It became a favourite of mine. I didn't think it dragged too much as her writing is so captivating & I really connected with the characters, but you make a good point about the ending. Now that I think of it, it did seem to keep digging until it found a suitable point to stop. Thanks for stopping by my blog & following. I'm doing the same here :)