Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Published:  1998
Pages:  543
ISBN:  9780061577079
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Postcolonial

Start Date:  Dec. 13, 2010
Finished Date:  Dec. 30, 2010 (17 days)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  The number of positive reviews, number of times it appears on favourite book lists, even the title struck me as too fascinating to pass up.

Summary:  A Southern American family consisting of an evangelist Baptist minister, his harried wife, and four daughters, each woman contributing her viewpoint to the story, as they struggle to settle their missionary work in the Congo.


By the end of this book, I wondered two things:  why I had put off reading it so long and why it hadn't secured a place on the reading list for postcolonial studies, a course I took in university & read many great works of fiction in, recounted in my Harking Back series of posts on books read in school (year 3 of university in this case) here.

It is difficult to write from one perspective, let alone five, which Kingsolver accomplishes gently, yet securely, allowing a bold, complicated story be woven from the distinct viewpoints of the Price women:  Orleanna, the always meant-to-be-well-meaning matriarch run ragged by her husband's extremism in converting Kilanga natives to Christianity; Rachel, the oldest daughter, whose bloated ego and outright disgust with African existence, comes to think of herself as a sacrificial maiden who buys into commercial enterprise to survive; twins Leah and Adah, identical in appearance & both fiercely intelligent, find independence in their separate voices (Leah, at first eager to please her demanding father and willing to be a servant of God through him, becomes loyal to the culture & people of Kilanga; Adah, spending her childhood mute by choice & discriminated against for having a hemiplegic condition that alters her thinking into a palindromic, poetic mindset; and Ruth Ann, the youngest daughter whose innocence & child-play is a symbol of inter-cultural community that her family struggles to accept for themselves.

I felt particularly connected to Leah as her perspective changed from rigid, unquestionable obedience of her father, going along with his unchanged vision of whitewashing the Congo, to a realization of pre-existing beliefs, lifestyles & knowledges that she not only accepts but embraces and learns to adopt for herself.  Adah was certainly an interesting perspective to read with her fascinating use of palindromes; however I didn't really connect with her character until closer to the novel's end when she decided to go into medicine and I felt so proud of her, yet sympathized with the sacrificial parting of her language as she became "cured."

Race, religion, culture, spirituality, acceptance, hope, bravery, favouritism, evangelism, language, power, greed, sacrifice, selfishness, selflessness, history, education, postcolonialism...There are countless themes put under the microscope, presenting prickly, heated moments of indifference and intolerance. No novel that explores one of these themes, let alone all of them, is without tragedy and disturbing relevations of human corruption.  Many events in the story are incredibly powerful & often deeply disturbing, but for every tragic occurence, there is a renewed sense of purpose, a re-evaluation of self that propels characters to take a risk, making self-transformation a hopeful solution to untangling the knots of their past that prevented any kind of change.

In reading this novel, I've discovered an author that I will not only continue to follow, but would read anything by.  Barbara Kinsolver is the kind of author you would be pleased to read if she published a cereal box.  The substance & depth of her writing is extraordinary.

If you have not read The Poisonwood Bible, you need to bring yourself to do it.  When you do, please let me know what you thought of it.  It's an excellent choice for a book club discussion!

Rank:  (A+)- Must-read, Highly recommended


  1. Glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, I think if Barbara Kingsolver published a cereal box I'd be getting my hands on it. :)

  2. I read this many years ago and I was kind of "meh" about it, but I recently started listening to the audiobook and I'm enjoying it much more. Perhaps I was reading it at the wrong time.

  3. of my all-time favorite books! So glad you enjoyed it, too. Wonderful, well-written review.


  4. How amazing is this book and how amazing is this author? The Lacuna was the first book ir ead last year and it was one of my favourites. She is a great writer and she accomplishes so much with this book.

    If you really enjoyed it I would recommend listeing to the podcasr from the World Book Club from the BBC World Service with Barbara Kingsolver where she talks all about this book.

    I think you can find it at this link

  5. So glad you enjoyed it. I loved this book too, and agree with everything you wrote about it.

  6. I resolve to read this book this year: 1) because like you, I have heard so many good things about it 2) because I was not impressed with the only book I have read from her, the Bean Trees, and I always read two books of an author before I give up 3) because of your fantastic review!! Thanks.

  7. This book was so amazing! I particularly loved Adah's character. I've read a few other books by Kingsolver, but I haven't loved any of them, which makes me grateful that I didn't read them first and miss out on this gem.

  8. Thanks for all of your comments :)

    Melody, Sue & Sam~ Glad to know some of my followers (and I follow you 3, too) love this!

    Suzanne~ I heard that the audiobook is just lovely. Hope that improves your reading experience :)

    Becky~ Thanks! My edition had a great author interview with some additional points on the writing of the novel. I'd like to try The Lacuna and maybe Prodigal Summer sometime.

    BookQuoter~ Wow, thank you so much! I'm glad I could be of service :) You'll get a lot of wonderful quotations from this book, guaranteed.

    Avid Reader~ Agreed! Adah's voice was so interesting. I'm hoping to try a couple of other Kingsolver books, but I admit that I'm glad I started with this one.