March 31, 2010

english 101 #3: The Poisonwood Bible

  • About the author EB

Welcome to the third installment of English 101: The Harper Perennial Modern Classics Book Club. Today’s book is The Poisonwood Bible.

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About the book: 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.

Before I start talking about how much I liked this book, I should mention that the reason I had never read it for years was that I was convinced it was dystopian lit that took place in some sort of apocalyptic world. Why did I think that? I have no idea.

But back to the book. I think what I loved the most about The Poisonwood Bible is that it’s one of those unique books that teaches you about something, be it an era or a country or a time, without ever seeming didactic or boring. I feel like TPB gave me a taste of what happened in Congo in the 60s, and definitely left me wanting to know more and read some nonfiction about the time. Another thing in its favor is that it is told, in alternating chapters, by five different narrators, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book where that was done so well and so distinctly, though my favorite character by far was Leah, the smart, non-silent, non-stuck-up sister.

The only thing I didn’t 100% love about the book was that I much preferred the parts where the Price family was together in the Congo than the parts that take place in later years. A part of me almost wished that Kingsolver could have ended the book with the Prices (or most of them) leaving on the day of Lumumba’s assassination, which was also an important day in their family, and left me wondering what happened to them afterwards.

So let’s discuss. Did you love the book as much as I did? How did you feel about the later parts? Which cover do you like better? (I have to say I’m in love with our orange and yellow deluxe edition.) And can you recommend any other books that teach without being too obvious about it?

If you’re on Goodreads, we’ll also be discussing the book there in our new goodreads group, which you should absolutely join.

(More on next month’s book club pick tomorrow.)

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