The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingslover

Posted by Justine Solomons on October 17, 2011, in Recommendations

To buy this book click on the following link: The Poisonwood Bible

Set mainly in 1960s Congo, The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of an American missionary, his wife and four daughters who go out to the live in the remote village of Kilango to ‘save its people.’ Life is austere, and any comforts that they take along from home, such the four packets of cake mix to have on the children’s birthday’s which turn hard and so cannot be used, are unable to help them in their new found hardship. Any initial optimism about their ability to help the village and indeed to cope with the difficulties they’ll face is slowly warn away, and as things get progressively worse the missionary is revealed to be stubborn and ultimately doggedly selfish in his unwillingness to take his daughters back home and save them from this horror.  The book's final section looks at their lives years later and the contrast between the womens' lives is striking, revealing the extent to which nature will triumph over nurture.

The narration throughout is interesting with each section initially narrated by the mother and then each chapter within each section narrated by each of the daughters in turn. This gives an interesting perspective as each character is understood both in their own voice, each of the women’s voices are impressively distinct, and also seen from outsiders’ perspective.  It’s not an easy read, but it is rewarding. The writing is very beautiful and the apocalyptic setting comforting, especially for me reading it in a country such as the UK where, even in times of recession, resources are so plentiful.


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