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The Poisonwood Bible (2005)

The Poisonwood Bible (2005)
3.99 of 5 Votes: 3
0060786507 (ISBN13: 9780060786502)
harper perennial modern classics
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The Poisonwood Bible (2005)
The Poisonwood Bible (2005)

About book: On one hand, there is nothing new here, and on this same old tirade, I disagree strongly with the author. Examples:* Relativism. I'm sorry, I believe infanticide to be wrong for all cultures, for all times.* Missionaries, particularly protestant missionaries to Africa were entirely the endeavor of egotistic, abusive, colonialists who were merely out to change Africa into either a western society or an exploitative factory for western society. Wrong again, read Tom Hiney's "On the Missionary Trail" for a non-fiction perspective that documents ways in which many missionaries were actually upsetting the colonial balance by preparing native peoples for independence, tutoring leaders on negotiation with world powers, recording native history and cultural practices and transcribing their languages, ; see also Philips Jenkins' "The Next Christendom".* Marriage is an oppressive institution that consumes women; they need to escape. Certainly SOME marriages are, but that doesn't mean we go the way of disregarding it as a foundational institution of society. * America is an evil power of which we should all be ashamed. False again. I cannot deny mistakes have been made in American foreign policy, and certainly events of the Congo, as presented in this book, would appear to be this way. But, there are also many things America has done that are good (such as preserving freedom for those who live here to write books ripping on America), and these shouldn't be ignored.* All cultural traditions should be preserved because they have merit in and of themselves. I do not agree with this at all. Female circumcision should not be, regardless of whether it is a cultural tradition. Not only does it serve no purpose to enhance the lives of either men or women, it is destructive to them. At the same time, the American high-fat, high-sugar diet, while traditional (burgers, fries and shakes) should be changed. American isolationalism that doesn't consider other cultures and peoples should also go too.* The work is hailed as an "examination of personal responsibility". Clearly all Belgians, American, colonialists, businessmen, husbands/fathers, missionaries, and mothers (to a lesser extent) are to be found culpable in the downfall of the Congo, as if this type of situation has never occurred in history before. But the truth is often far more complex, and the events in Congo, while horrible, cannot really be understood outside of their larger context. Was Congo the only African nation to suffer? Was there truly not a single benefit of colonialism? Were all businessmen/ westerners culpable or colluding? Were all involved in the downfall of the Congo Christians? Were not the African leader, Mbuto (funded by the US, yes) and his followers not equally guilty of selling out Africans for personal gain? Were there not some westerners (like the noble parents of the author mentioned in the prelude) trying to make life better for Africans? Is this not the same thing we see currently in Zimbabwe? If we are going to examine evil and exploitation, let's remember that no one person, country, or even time, has a lock on it. And lets not paint extreme pictures of those we chose to reject, while painting those we agree with in glowing terms. As with many fictional accounts, we don't like to admit the good and the bad falls on both sides.*Christianity is merely a tool people use to exploit others and promote their own agenda. I fundamentally disagree with this perspective. Christianity is a relationship with Christ that involves following after Him and becoming more like Him.The extreme situation the author creates in this fictional account allows her to proclaim her philosophies of life with vigor, particularly anti-Christianity and anti-Americanism. In the foreword, she makes effort to point out that her parents (who went to the Congo in the same time period) have NOTHING in common with the main subjects of the work, essentially preparing the reader for the assault upon the southern baptist missionary and his 4 children from Georgia who are the main characters.With such flaws, a work should be easily dismissed. However, there are some glowing strong points. The writing is exceptional, and there are many rich scenes that are not soon forgotten. The understanding of African life, customs, language and landscape as well as the ability to portray this amazingly beautiful land as a living organism were compellingly impressed upon my mind. The character development and interaction of perspectives (each chapter is the perspective of one character, the book being a series of their interwoven stories), is extraordinary; though it is noteworthy that the author doesn't include a single chapter from the perspective of the husband/father/missionary zealot of the family, but only permits him to be defined by the others. I really cared about the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them.The examination of cross-cultural interaction and communication is powerfully illustrated as we begin with a purely American perspective that slowly opens (through the eyes of some, not all, characters) to an African perspective.While it might be a helpful work to those longing to know Africa or understand cross-cultural disconnects, I cannot give it more than two stars because of the blatant agenda referenced above.ADDENDUM: For those really wanting to understand the history of the Congo, including the dark side of it's formation, I recommend "King Leopold's Ghost" by Adam Hochschild. Hochschild's work is well told, enjoyable even to non-historians, and will give an excellent picture of the dynamics (both the good and the evil) at work in the Congo. Looking back, compared to the exceptional "King Leopold's Ghost", Poisonwood Bible was an incredible waste of time - i'm lowering it to one star.Tom Hiney's "On the Missionary Trail" is also excellent in content, though not as well written, for those interested in the lives of ordinary (meaning not generally famous) missionaries around the world.UPDATE:Research quantifying the impact of protestant missionaries around the world. A summary: publication in American Political Science Review, here: I believe this to be the WORST review I have ever written on Goodreads, yet it is the most discussed! I was so annoyed by the material, I didn't want to spend the time to polish my thoughts - I just wanted to be done with it! Yes, now I regret it.

There's plenty of goodreads reviewers who felt differently, but I found The Poisonwood Bible to be a very strong and very different piece of historical fiction. It's a slower story than I normally like, something you might want to consider before deciding whether to try this 600+ page exploration of colonialism, postcolonialism and postcolonial attitudes, but I very much enjoyed this incredibly detailed portrait of a family and a society set in the Belgian Congo of 1959. And I, unlike some other readers, didn't see evidence of a narrow-minded agenda in Kingsolver's tale. I didn't really see this as a book about lessons or morals, I saw it as a close look at the reality of this time and the different way it can be perceived depending on your point of view.I like writers who explore without trying to impart a lesson, who lay out a canvas but let the reader draw their own conclusions from it. This adds depth and a layer of complexity to the novel that allows for that dreaded word - interpretation - to rear it's head. But different interpretations make for very interesting conversations. And I love it when reading a book creates a two-way stream of ideas, those of the author and those of the reader, the kind of book that asks me to think instead of proceeding to think for me. Lectures on colonialism? Been there, done that, give me this more thought-provoking method any day.I particularly like what Tatiana said about the different POVs of the Price family and how each showed a different side and a different attitude to colonialism. From those who saw it as the West's duty to educate and industrialize "savages" and rid them of such damaging practices as genital mutilation and infanticide; to those who feel embarrassed at what the West has done to the postcolonial world and believe in the need for cultural respect. It's complex because there isn't a simple answer to the questions raised by colonialism. Do objective, absolute truths ever exist? Where does culture end and universal human rights begin? Is humanitarian intervention a responsibility or an excuse to impose Western beliefs and values on postcolonial societies? Kingsolver shows the many sides to this issue and lets you draw your own conclusions.The story is about Nathan Price and his family. Nathan is an evangelical Baptist from Georgia who believes God has sent him on a mission to save - through religious conversion - the "savage" citizens of the Belgian Congo. With him are his wife and four daughters and the novel alternates between each of these five perspectives. I'm not usually a fan of any more than two POVs but this book turned out to be a rare exception. Maybe because Kingsolver spent the necessary time developing each individual character so none of the perspectives felt unnecessary or like filler. I've spent a lot of time comparing this book to another I read recently - A Thousand Splendid Suns. They are both books about countries and cultures that I was only vaguely familiar with and they are both about a very specific turning point in each country's history. And while they are both good, in my opinion, they are also two very different kinds of novels. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fast-paced, emotional, dramatic page-turner that has you constantly on the edge of your seat. I read it in a single day and wanted to recommend it to every person who hadn't read it. The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand, is a slower, more complex, more demanding work that is even more satisfying when you look back over it and observe it's clever details as a whole. It's not for everyone and I'm sure my Empire and Decolonization course helped prepare me somewhat for it. Ultimately, I really liked how Kingsolver uses the different perspectives to take on the different attitudes to postcolonialism. For me, this is a clever and thought-provoking novel that goes beyond what many other books of its kind have achieved.
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My official review "Tata Jesus is Bängala":I finished the last 300 pages in 2 days (which is very fast for me - English books). I felt every emotion under the sky with this book. I hated Nathan Price, I hated injustice, I hated my uselessness, I hated the fact that there are no good prospects for Africa in the future. As a Geographic major I strongly believe that the closer you are to the Equator, the longer it will remain a 3rd world country. Of course the country itself is full of resources (in non-foods) that could make them rich, but nothing can feed the overpopulated cities. Politics obstruct any way of turning diamonds into food. Anyway,I loved the fact the author talked so much about how they processed their lives and experiences in the Congo. To some degree that's how I am. I grew up poor and desolate and now live in this insane country where everything is available. I feel restless and unsettles at times. Like Orleanna who can't wear shoes in Atlanta because she needs to feel dirt between her feet I prefer to walk to church (with stroller and kids) in Minus degree weather because that's my connection to my family and culture in Germany. Nobody gets it when we arrive at church with red noses, fully aware that we have a functional car.I love and miss Ruth May. I cried a lot about dead animal. I laughed at her timely wittiness in describing the culture clashes.I learned one important point about African culture. The author lingered on the fact that Africans (especially villagers) can't grasp the fact of a family owning or keeping more than they need or consume at any point. When a fisherman caught a full net he immediately shares with his village. People don't ask for fish or thank for the fish. They just take. Because that's how it is. When the Prices arrived there with storage the kids came to beg at their door. Not because they were greedy or rude but that's how the village functions.We have many African immigrants in our ward and neighborhood (sometimes I am the only white person in a store on any given day). For example when the Relief Society announces a committee meeting "With refreshments" some African women just show up. They go straight to the refreshment table (in the middle of the meeting, untouched foods and all) eat, and then go home. None has a calling but hears the call to eat the offered food. There is an abundance and they have no money for food. It's all logical to them to eat when it's available if they were invited or not. There are also many problems with African can't getting off welfare. Honorable families don't understand the reason not to take when it's for everyone to take and use. There is no thinking about the future, just filling the belly now.One of our Book Club books this year is "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby K Payne to help us interact better.I loved it. It was a good book. A few flaws but easily forgivable for the beautiful philosophical writing. It was the best epic I read so far.
Angela Dawn
Riveting...We read this aloud at home and I found it to be beautifully and movingly written, by turns charming and horrifying. Her articulation of the most subtle nuances of experience, the profoundly different narrative voices she assumes like an experienced character actress, and the way she fluently plays with language, show Kingsolver's love and mastery of her craft.Having been brought up by ultra-religious Christian parents myself, I found the children's and wife's experience strongly resonant and painfully authentic.I think you have to have lived it to know how accurate and insightful she is in her exposition of the nature of evangelical authoritarianism, it's effect on character, the power of rigidly imposed gender roles, the monomaniacal aspects of monotheism, the not-so-subtle and pervasive racism and sexism. I think the comparison to imperialism is smack on, and a valuable association that deserves, even needs, to be drawn, particularly in the world in which we live today, where the confluence of these two rivers of inhumanity threaten more every day to once again overflow with devastating consequences. It cannot be too boldly stated that these twin terrors have together shaped our world for the worse, anciently and modernly. As a victim and survivor of both, to greater or lesser extent, Ms. Kingsolver has a natural right to portray them, and does so authoritatively. Both have an inherent dismissivness toward the dignity and value of individuals, engendering similar resentment, hopelessness, and a sense of helplessness, in their victims. The conceit and destructiveness inherent in both clearly make them horses of the very same color. We ignore their resemblance and relationship at our peril.It's important to know that this is Kingsolver's most autobiographical novel. She's writing from personal experience, as well as an impressively large body of knowledge about Africa and it's politics. She knows these people and places like the back of her hand.Like her main characters, she carries them wherever she goes.
JG (The Introverted Reader)
The Poisonwood Bible is about a Southern Baptist family that decides to go be missionaries in the Congo in 1960, just before the country was supposedly granted its independence from Belgium. The Prices didn't bother with language or culture training, they just took off to spread the word about Jesus. Of course they weren't prepared for what they found, so of course they got in a lot of trouble.I can't exactly put my finger on what I didn't like. I just know that it felt like it dragged on and on and on and on. I sort of expected the book to end when they finally left the village, but I still had another 150 pages to go. It could be that I never really cared much about any of the characters, although I was glad when it was Adah's turn to tell part of the story because I did like her wordplay.I gathered from the forward that the author spent time in the Congo as a child, so she is telling a story that she has some first-hand knowledge of. And I was left wondering when we in the US are ever going to learn to keep our nose out of other countries' business. We are not painted in a very flattering light in this book. All I can say is that this was not the book for me. I'm rapidly reaching the conclusion that I should stay away from Oprah's books because I don't think I've really enjoyed any of them. That being said, if you like Oprah's books, you will probably like this one also.
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