Cover image for The poisonwood Bible : a novel
Title:
The poisonwood Bible : a novel
ISBN:
9780060786502
Edition:
1st Harper Perennial modern classics ed.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperPerennial, 2005, c1999.
Physical Description:
x, 546, 18 p. ; 21 cm.
Reading Level:
960 L Lexile
Summary:
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 all 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.
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Summary

Summary

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.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.


Author Notes

Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland and grew up in Eastern Kentucky. As a child, Kingsolver used to beg her mother to tell her bedtime stories. She soon started to write stories and essays of her own, and at the age of nine, she began to keep a journal. After graduating with a degree in biology form De Pauw University in Indiana in 1977, Kingsolver pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She earned her Master of Science degree in the early 1980s.

A position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led Kingsolver into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her articles have appeared in a number of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian magazines. In 1985, she married a chemist, becoming pregnant the following year. During her pregnancy, Kingsolver suffered from insomnia. To ease her boredom when she couldn't sleep, she began writing fiction

Barbara Kingsolver's first fiction novel, The Bean Trees, published in 1988, is about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky and finds herself living in urban Tucson. Since then, Kingsolver has written other novels, including Holding the Line, Homeland, and Pigs in Heaven. In 1995, after the publication of her essay collection High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University. Her latest works include The Lacuna and Flight Behavior.

Barbara's nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was written with her family. This is the true story of the family's adventures as they move to a farm in rural Virginia and vow to eat locally for one year. They grow their own vegetables, raise their own poultry and buy the rest of their food directly from farmers markets and other local sources.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this risky but resoundingly successful novel, Kingsolver leaves the Southwest, the setting of most of her work (The Bean Trees; Animal Dreams) and follows an evangelical Baptist minister's family to the Congo in the late 1950s, entwining their fate with that of the country during three turbulent decades. Nathan Price's determination to convert the natives of the Congo to Christianity is, we gradually discover, both foolhardy and dangerous, unsanctioned by the church administration and doomed from the start by Nathan's self-righteousness. Fanatic and sanctimonious, Nathan is a domestic monster, too, a physically and emotionally abusive, misogynistic husband and father. He refuses to understand how his obsession with river baptism affronts the traditions of the villagers of Kalinga, and his stubborn concept of religious rectitude brings misery and destruction to all. Cleverly, Kingsolver never brings us inside Nathan's head but instead unfolds the tragic story of the Price family through the alternating points of view of Orleanna Price and her four daughters. Cast with her young children into primitive conditions but trained to be obedient to her husband, Orleanna is powerless to mitigate their situation. Meanwhile, each of the four Price daughters reveals herself through first-person narration, and their rich and clearly differentiated self-portraits are small triumphs. Rachel, the eldest, is a self-absorbed teenager who will never outgrow her selfish view of the world or her tendency to commit hilarious malapropisms. Twins Leah and Adah are gifted intellectually but are physically and emotionally separated by Adah's birth injury, which has rendered her hemiplagic. Leah adores her father; Adah, who does not speak, is a shrewd observer of his monumental ego. The musings of five- year-old Ruth May reflect a child's humorous misunderstanding of the exotic world to which she has been transported. By revealing the story through the female victims of Reverend Price's hubris, Kingsolver also charts their maturation as they confront or evade moral and existential issues and, at great cost, accrue wisdom in the crucible of an alien land. It is through their eyes that we come to experience the life of the villagers in an isolated community and the particular ways in which American and African cultures collide. As the girls become acquainted with the villagers, especially the young teacher Anatole, they begin to understand the political situation in the Congo: the brutality of Belgian rule, the nascent nationalism briefly fulfilled in the election of the short-lived Patrice Lumumba government, and the secret involvement of the Eisenhower administration in Lumumba's assassination and the installation of the villainous dictator Mobutu. In the end, Kingsolver delivers a compelling family saga, a sobering picture of the horrors of fanatic fundamentalism and an insightful view of an exploited country crushed by the heel of colonialism and then ruthlessly manipulated by a bastion of democracy. The book is also a marvelous mix of trenchant character portrayal, unflagging narrative thrust and authoritative background detail. The disastrous outcome of the forceful imposition of Christian theology on indigenous natural faith gives the novel its pervasive irony; but humor is pervasive, too, artfully integrated into the children's misapprehensions of their world; and suspense rises inexorably as the Price family's peril and that of the newly independent country of Zaire intersect. Kingsolver moves into new moral terrain in this powerful, convincing and emotionally resonant novel. Agent, Frances Goldin; BOMC selection; major ad/promo; author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Guardian Review

To order The Poisonwood Bible for pounds 7.19 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop Before I wrote The Poisonwood Bible, it haunted my office for a decade in the form of a file cabinet labelled "DAB" - the Damned Africa Book. Into that cabinet I stuffed notes, clippings, photographs, character sketches, plot ideas, anything that struck me as relevant to the huge novel I wished I could write. I did not believe I would ever be writer enough to do it. So the files grew fat, in proportion to my angst about the undertaking. The whole thing began around 1985 when I read a book called Endless Enemies, by Jonathan Kwitny. It's an analysis of US foreign policy that lays bare the business of governments making enemies by overruling the autonomy of developing nations, much the way a condescending parent would rule a child. The analogy struck me as novelesque: a study of this persistent human flaw - arrogance masquerading as helpfulness - could be a personal story that also functioned as allegory. The story of the CIA-backed coup in the Congo in 1960 struck me as the heart of darkness in a nutshell. I began to imagine a household of teenaged daughters under the insufferable rule of an autocratic father, as a microcosm of the Congolese conflict. And what if I placed them in the Congo, right at the moment when it's trying to throw off colonial rule? The characters would be ignorant of the political drama around them, but the reader would see everything. The idea seemed so compelling, but to write a novel like that, I would have to know a million things: political history, CIA secrets, the quotidian details of missionary life (because of course, these characters would be Christian missionaries), the teenage culture and language of the late 1950s. And the Congo itself: its flora and fauna, sounds and smells, language and art, its spirituality. I had lived briefly in a Congolese village as a child, and so I had a bank of very visceral memories without any adult context. As for the rest, I was utterly ignorant: what did teenagers care about in 1959? Who assassinated Patrice Lumumba? I couldn't see beyond the walls of my ignorance. Still, I considered the questions that could be asked in a novel like this. I was hardly even born when my country stole the Congo's fledgling independence and resources, but undoubtedly my country and I have benefited materially from that piracy, so how am I supposed to feel about that? Guilty? Indifferent? Scientifically curious, or politically apologetic? I saw many possible answers, and I liked the idea of creating a character who would personify each point of view: a gaggle of sisters under the dominance of a fierce patriarch, each of whom would try to survive him in her own way. They would tell the story. Gradually each sister gained a personality, and a voice. I practised telling the same scene from three points of view. I discovered I needed a fourth, so one sister split into twins. That's the kick of being a novelist, you get to be God: "Let there be another sister! And there was. And the Novelist said, that is good." I read and read, for years. Political history, African religion, the King James Bible, self-published missionary memoirs. I found an antique Kikongo-English dictionary. I moved to the Canary Islands for a year so I could make brief research trips into Africa while leaving my young daughter safely ensconced in a European pre-school. Those trips were no place for a child, believe me. I could have written a book about them: waiting 24 hours in one spot until the cab driver collected enough passengers to make a trip to another town (one rode on the roof). Slipping into secret religious ceremonies. Being stopped at a border and lined up for a mandatory anti-cholera injection from the same hypodermic that was used on the 10 people ahead of me. (Luckily I carried my own needle, for just such emergencies.) I saw astounding sights and ate previously unimaginable things. But one research goal eluded me: I needed to go back to the region of central Congo where I'd lived as a child. That was my setting, but I doubted the accuracy of my memories. In the 90s it was still ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator the US had helped to install 30 years earlier, and because I'd publicly spoken against him, I was not allowed into the country. So I wrote other books instead, biding my time, reading and making outlines and fattening my file cabinet, postponing the project. As long as Mobutu kept me out of his turf, I could never write the damned Africa novel. Then one day in 1994, my husband called my bluff. "You know what?" he asked. "That's just an excuse. Really, you're scared. You know enough to begin this novel, so just write." I did not know whether he was right or wrong about my knowing enough. But as for my using Mobutu as an excuse, he was right. So I did it. I began. - Barbara Kingsolver The whole thing began around 1985 when I read a book called Endless Enemies, by Jonathan Kwitny. It's an analysis of US foreign policy that lays bare the business of governments making enemies by overruling the autonomy of developing nations, much the way a condescending parent would rule a child. The analogy struck me as novelesque: a study of this persistent human flaw - arrogance masquerading as helpfulness - could be a personal story that also functioned as allegory. The story of the CIA-backed coup in the Congo in 1960 struck me as the heart of darkness in a nutshell. I began to imagine a household of teenaged daughters under the insufferable rule of an autocratic father, as a microcosm of the Congolese conflict. And what if I placed them in the Congo, right at the moment when it's trying to throw off colonial rule? The characters would be ignorant of the political drama around them, but the reader would see everything. - Barbara Kingsolver.


Kirkus Review

The first novel in five years from the ever-popular Kingsolver (Pigs in Heaven, 1993, etc.) is a large-scale saga of an American family's enlightening and disillusioning African adventure. It begins with a stunningly written backward look: Orleanna Price's embittered memory of the uncompromising zeal that impelled her husband, Baptist missionary Nathan Price, to take her and their four daughters to the (then) Belgian Congo in 1959, and remain there despite dangerous evidence of the country's instability under Patrice Lumumba's ill-starred independence movement, Belgian and American interference and condescension, and Joseph Mobutu's murderous military dictatorship. The bulk of the story, which is set in the superbly realized native village of Kilanga, is narrated in turn by the four Price girls: Leah, the ``smart'' twin, whose worshipful respect for her father will undergo a rigorous trial by fire; her Žretarded'' counterpart Adah, disabled and mute (though in the depths of her mind articulate and playfully intelligent); eldest sister Rachel, a self-important whiner given to hilarious malapropisms (``feminine tuition''; ``I prefer to remain anomalous''); and youngest sister Ruth May, whose childish fantasies of union with the surrounding, smothering landscape are cruelly fulfilled. Kingsolver skillfully orchestrates her charactersŽ varied responses to Africa into a consistently absorbing narrative that reaches climax after climaxŽand that, even after you're sure it must be nearing its end, continues for a wrenching hundred pages or more, spelling out in unforgettable dramatic and lyric terms the fates of the surviving Prices. Little recent fiction has so successfully fused the personal with the political. Better even than Robert Stone in his otherwise brilliant Damascus Gate, Kingsolver convinces us that her characters are, first and foremost, breathing, fallible human beings and only secondarily conduits for her bookŽs vigorously expressed and argued social and political ideas. A triumph. (Author tour)


Library Journal Review

An enduringly popular story of one family's existence in postcolonial Africa, often found on "best of the best" lists of audiobooks. Narrated with an anthropological tone by Dean Robertson. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Poisonwood Bible Chapter One Genesis And God said unto them, Be fruiful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the foul of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28 Orleanna Price Sanderling Island, Georgia Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever. Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above this way they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you'll have to decide what sympathy they deserve. The mother especially--watch how she leads them on, pale-eyed, deliberate. Her dark hair is tied in a ragged lace handkerchief, and her curved jawbone is lit with large, false-pearl earrings, as if these headlamps from another world might show the way. The daughters march behind her, four girls compressed in bodies as tight as bowstrings, each one tensed to fire off a woman's heart on a different path to glory or damnation. Even now they resist affinity like cats in a bag: two blondes--the one short and fierce, the other tall and imperious--flanked by matched brunettes like bookends, the forward twin leading hungrily while the rear one sweeps the ground in a rhythmic limp. But gamely enough they climb together over logs of rank decay that have fallen across the path. The mother waves a graceful hand in front of her as she leads the way, parting curtain after curtain of spiders' webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. Behind them the curtain closes. The spiders return to their killing ways. At the stream bank she sets out their drear picnic, which is only dense, crumbling bread daubed with crushed peanuts and slices of bitter plantain. After months of modest hunger the children now forget to complain about food. Silently they swallow, shake off the crumbs, and drift downstream for a swim in faster water. The mother is left alone in the cove of enormous trees at the edge of a pool. This place is as familiar to her now as a living room in the house of a life she never bargained for. She rests uneasily in the silence, watching ants boil darkly over the crumbs of what seemed, to begin with, an impossibly meager lunch. Always there is someone hungrier than her own children. She tucks her dress under her legs and inspects her poor, featherless feet in their grass nest at the water's edge--twin birds helpless to fly out of there, away from the disaster she knows is coming. She could lose everything: herself, or worse, her children. Worst of all: you , her only secret. Her favorite. How could a mother live with herself to blame? She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn't. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest's shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he's been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water's skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves. It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant's afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it's been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes' peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course. Orleanna Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it. I didn't know any name for what I'd seen until some years afterward in Atlanta, when I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book. I read that the male okapi is smaller than the female, and more shy, and that hardly anything else is known about them. For hundreds of years people in the Congo Valley spoke of this beautiful, strange beast. When European explorers got wind of it, they declared it legendary: a unicorn. Another fabulous tale from the dark domain of poison-tipped arrows and bone-pierced lips. Then, in the 1920s, when elsewhere in the world the menfolk took a break between wars to perfect the airplane and the automobile, a white man finally did set eyes on the okapi. I can picture him spying on . . . The Poisonwood Bible . Copyright © by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
Book 1 Genesisp. 1
Book 2 The Revelationp. 83
Book 3 The Judgesp. 187
Book 4 Bel and the Serpentp. 313
Book 5 Exodusp. 377
Book 6 Song of the Three Childrenp. 507
Book 7 The Eyes in the Treesp. 535
Bibliographyp. 545