The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver

677,681 ratings - 4.07* vote

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 The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who

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Book details

Hardcover, 546 pages
July 5th 2005 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics

(first published September 24th 1998)

Original Title
The Poisonwood Bible
0060786507 (ISBN13: 9780060786502)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


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.

King Leopold's Ghost, Hochschild, 1999

On the Missionary Trail, Hiney, 2001

Give Me this Mountain, Roseveare, 1966
This is a non-fiction memoir written by a missionary serving in the Congo during the time period covered by Kingsolver. You will notice the prose lacks Kingsolver's enchantment, but you will learn something of what it was actually like for a mission and some of it's servants to live through the independence of the Congo and the following civil war.

Research quantifying the impact of protestant missionaries around the world. A summary:
Scholarly publication in American Political Science Review, here:

PS. 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. For what I consider better work, and no less controversial, check out my review and follow up comments/ discussion of Roots by Alex Haley.

This title came up in discussion as a non-fiction resource for learning about the African continent as a whole.
The Fate of Africa, Meredith, 2005

Emily May

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 its 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 its 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.

Will Byrnes

In late 1950s Congo, an American missionary arrives with his family intent on bringing enlightenment to the savages. The experiences of the family are told by the preacher’s wife, Orleanna, and their four daughters, the vain Rachel, twins Leah, who is devoted to her father, and Adah, damaged at birth but more aware than anyone realizes, and the baby, Ruth Ann. The events take place during a period when Congo was eager to cast off its colonial chains and we see some details of events of the time.

Barbara Kingsolver - from the Guardian

This is a tale not merely about a missionary family in an alien land, but about learning to see what is in plain sight. It is about opening the mind and the heart. We learn about the local culture, good and bad, as well as about the mores of the missionaries.

The father is presented as a mindless faith-robot, determined to convert the heathen while being completely clueless about and uninterested in learning how to actually communicate with them. I would have preferred it had this character been given some more dimension, instead of serving as a stand-in for the arrogance of western cultural imperialism. His family is given a better shake. Through Orleanna’s and the girls eyes we see not only their private struggles and coming of age, but gain insight into and information about the strange world into which they have been thrust. Kingsolver reminds us of the time period with small portraits of local involvement in the independence movement.

I expect that there will be those who reject the novel because it takes an anti-imperialist and anti-missionary perspective, ignoring the aspects of the tale that are critical of local practices as well. But I did not react to this book as a political screed. There is great craft at work here. Kingsolver offers poetic descriptions that I found extremely beautiful, rich and moving. Her main characters were well-realized and accessible, and she succeeded nicely in giving each a very individual voice. The path along which she moves her characters made sense to me and only rarely did I have a tough time accepting her authorial choices.

Overall, this is a terrific book, well-crafted, informative and satisfying.

For any interested in learning about the history of the Congo, particularly as it pertains to Belgium’s role, there is no better read than Adam Hochschild ‘s King Leopold’s Ghost, an outstanding telling of that story.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

Reviews of other Kingsolver books
-----The Lacuna
-----Flight Behavior


I read this over a two day span in college when I was home for winter break. We had a power outage so I found the sunniest room in the house and read all day. Although I prefer Kingsolver's works about the American southwest, this remains one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.


The forest eats itself and lives forever.
Image: “The Trees Have Eyes” by Angela Wright

There is magic in these pages. Not the supernatural kind. Not the magical-realism kind. But magic of language and of the TARDIS kind: by some strange sorcery, many huge themes are thoroughly but lightly explored in single volume that is beautiful, harrowing, exciting, tender, occasionally humorous, and very approachable.

We messengers of goodwill adrift in a sea of mistaken intentions.

Freedom and Forgiveness

I was lodged in the heart of darkness… I cowered beside my cage, and though my soul hankered after the mountain, I found... I had no wings.

This is multi-layered, multi-faceted, and multi-narrated. But the many themes all concern the craving for freedom. Freedom of individuals and of nations, from exploitation, superstition, poverty, hunger, disease, bad relationships, and colonial oppressors.

When freedom is offered, there is the difficulty of recognising it and having the courage to accept it. In the final third, the stories flow in separate channels, yet the theme narrows to the idea that freedom requires letting go. Specifically, we must forgive others and ourselves before we can be truly free.

Genesis, The Revelation, The Judges, Bel and the Serpent, Exodus, Song of the Three Children, and The Eyes in the Trees

The seven sections are titled after pertinent books of the Bible or Apocrypha.

In 1959, a Baptist minister takes his wife and four daughters (Rachel, twins Leah and Adah, and little Ruth May) from suburban Georgia, USA on a one-year mission to a remote village in the Congo, shortly before independence. The first two-thirds concern their departure, arrival, and year in Kilanga. The remainder follows their diverging lives up to 1986 and beyond. The final section is a slightly superfluous race through a couple of decades.

The narration switches between Orleanna, the now elderly wife/mother looking back, and the four daughters nearer the "now" of that stage of the story. All are independent minded and intelligent, each with a distinctive voice, which develops plausibly with the story (except for the one Kingsolver probably least identifies with, who becomes something of a caricature in middle age). Each illustrates a different Western approach to Africa: meidcal fix, submission/immersion, political reform, colonial paternalism. They could easily just be stereotypes (vicar's wife; the sweet sixteen, caring about cosmetics and fashion; the nature-loving, religious tomboy; the silent, thoughtful, limping observer; the gregarious child), but Kingsolver makes each uniquely believable and engaging, especially mute Adah whose words are those of a sensuous, awe-struck, and non-judgemental poet.

Nathan, whose damaged psyche, guilt, and inflexible beliefs are the trigger for everything, is only ever known through the words of the women he despises. Unfair or karma? Giving him a single chapter would seem tokenistic, and equal billing would unbalance the whole book. I think the way Kingsolver has written it rectifies the imbalance of his long-term power over the women in the story.

For Better or Worse

The hardest work of every day was deciding, once again, to stay with my family. They never even knew.

Orleanna is married to a man who does not, and probably never could love her. She is pained that “The thing you love more than this world grew from a devil’s seed”, but loves her very different children regardless. She wrestles with whether and how to leave Nathan, considering the consequences for the girls. With hindsight, she wonders what she was guilty of: complicity, loyalty, stupefaction? But she was a victim, too.

That abusive marriage is beautifully contrasted with a tender, devoted couple. They struggle for mere survival and are often forced apart, sometimes for long periods, but their love and commitment never waver. As with freedom and forgiveness, the difficulty is not merely finding love, but recognising it and then daring to grasp it and cling to it.


I expect different themes dominate, depending on the individual circumstances of each reader. I could write a whole review focusing on any one of these:

The circle of life, eating and being eaten, survival. “Alive, nobody matters much in the long run. But dead, some men matter more than others.”

The butterfly effect: “The sting of a fly… can launch the end of the world.” And “Every life is different because you passed this way.”

Nature, nurture, how landscape shapes peoples, despite their attempts to shape it.

Sin, original sin (snakes), sins of the Father and consequences - for individuals, but also in terms of colonialism, reparations, freedom.

Guilt, judgement and privilege, especially survivor guilt and white privilege. Everyone here is burdened with guilt, mostly of an unnecessary kind or degree. “God doesn’t need to punish us. He just grants us enough life to punish ourselves.”

The Bible, faith (and loss of), religion: life insurance or life sentence; life-jacket or straitjacket? Truth versus intention of the Bible and God.

Language, (mis)translation, misunderstanding, wordplay (especially Malapropisms (circus-mission for circumcision!) and palindromes), and literalism – or not – in interpreting the Bible.

Polysemy and poisonwood. “Mbote… means hello and goodbye, both.” Dundu is a kind of antelope, a particular plant, a hill, or the “price you have to pay”. The words of “baptism” and “to terrify” sound almost the same. And most disastrously for Nathan, bangala means most precious (Jesus), most insufferable – and poisonwood.

Racism - both ways.

Opposites, balance, reversal, palindromes, mirrors, ying/yang, pairs, twins.

Freedom, liberty, independence – and their cost.

Education: its importance, and especially the need to understand (rather than merely know). “Our hardest task is teaching people to count on a future.”

Clash of cultures: “Africa swallowed the conqueror’s music and sang a new song of her own.” The need to adapt, and the disastrous consequences of not doing so. “It’s like he’s trying to put rubber tires on a horse” but there are no horses in the Congo, “The point I was trying to make was so true there was not even a good way to say it.”

The role of women: in their own right, but also as wives and mothers.

Consumerism, agriculture, colonialism, war, politics, the environment.

Listening, watching, eavesdropping (“The Eyes in the Trees”): by God, animals, and fellow humans - alive and dead. One of Rachel’s better Malapropisms is “false-eye dolls”.

Disability and identity. Disability may “not be entirely one’s fault” but one should have the “good manners to act ashamed” in the face of “the arrogance of the able-bodied”. Yet, being “cured” might not be a blessing.

Change, adaptation, and finding one's true self - the character development is really well done. “To live is to be marked. To live is to change. To acquire the words of a story.”

Love, loyalty, sacrifice, hope.

Symbolism, prophesy, foreboding: Biblical (of course), but others, too, such as the “hope chests” the girls prepare for future marriage: one sees no need, one applies black borders, one does it carefully, and another doesn’t do it at all. Also colonialism of Africa having parallels with individual people.

Sensual and Synaesthetic Quotes

• "She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water's skin, as if he were lapping from her hand."

• “Rainy-season light in my eyes and Congo grit in my teeth.”

• “Emily Dickinson: No snikcidy lime, a contrary name with a sourgreen taste... She liked herself best in darkness, as do I."

• Bright fabrics “worn together in jangling mixtures that ring in my ears”.

• “Rattling words on the page calling my eyes to dance with them.”

• “Once every few years, even now, I catch the scent of Africa.”

• “While my husband’s intentions crystallized as rock salt… the Congo breathed behind the curtain of the forest, preparing to roll over us like a river.”

• “All those smells were so loud in my ears.”

• “The silk texture of that cool air, the smell of Congolese earth curling its toes under a thatch of dead grass.”

Other Quotes

• "Consecrate myself in the public library."

• “Here, bodily damage is more or less considered to be a by-product of living, not a disgrace… I enjoy a benign approval… that I have never, ever known in Bethlehem, Georgia.”

• “Sending a girl to college is like pouring water on your shoes.”

• “Whatever happens… Father acts like it’s a movie he’s already seen and we’re just dumb for not knowing how it comes out.”

• “To save my sanity, I learned to pad around hardship in soft slippers and try to remark on its good points.”

• “The buzzards rise from the leafless billboard tree and flap away like the sound of old black satin dresses beating together.”

• “I am the smooth, elegant black cat who slips from the house as a liquid shadow… With my own narrow shadow for a boat I navigate the streams of moonlight that run between shadow islands.”

• “The radio a live mass of wires oozing from his trunk, a seething congregation of snakes.”

• “Yellow leaves… littering the ground like a carpet rolled out for the approaching footsteps of the end of time.”

• “The sun hung low on the river, seemingly reluctant to enter this strange day. Then it rose redly into the purpled sky, resembling a black eye.”

• “Chasing flames that passed hungrily over the startled grass.”

• “As long as I kept moving my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me.”

• Even in solitude, there are “exploding moments” of unexpected “companionship and joy” such as “A kiss of flesh-coloured sunrise while I hung out the washing, a sigh of indigo birds exhaled from the grass.”

• “By [X] I was shattered and assembled, by way of [X] I am delivered not out of my life but through it. Love changes everything.” Inadvertently echoing Nathan’s belief that God delivers us not from suffering, but through it.

• “I recite the Periodic Table… like a prayer; I take my exams as Holy Communion, and the passing of the first semester was a sacrament.”

• “Carry us, marry us, ferry us, bury us: those are our four ways to exodus, for now.”

For a very different take on the missionary experience, see Michel Faber's interplantary, The Book of Strange New Things, reviewed HERE.

Image source “The Trees Have Eyes” by Angela Wright:


I had a hard time choosing between 2 and 3 stars -- really, it should be 2.5. I thought the prose was quite lovely; Kingsolver has a nice voice. I enjoyed reading about a part of the world of which I have no experience. The description of the clash of cultures was well done.

However. The author had an agenda and she really didn't mind continually slapping us in the face with it. Now, I don't pretend the US hasn't made mistakes and won't continue on making mistakes. But to equate one group of people with only one characteristic (American = greedy, capitalistic devil) and another group with the entirely opposite characteristic (African = naive, innocent angel) is not just a little prejudicial. Please: people in general have a little more depth than that. In fact, I would assume that the only evil African was Mobutu (who, I interpreted, was probably OK until corrupted by America) and the only really good American was Leah (since she ended up reviling the US).

And as for one-dimensional characters... I wish that Kingsolver had had at least one chapter in Nathan Price's voice. We are meant to hate him, and I did: I wanted him to get eaten by a leopard, or have someone hit him over the head with a shovel. Yet we got glimpses into his personality before WWII and got hints that he has scars as well. Why was he the way he was? What went on in his mind? For the person who most affected the major characters' lives, we end up knowing remarkably little about him, other than that he was a "despicable man". I felt that Kingsolver meant him to represent evil (how could he not be, as not only white and Christian, but a man to boot?) and decided that he needed no more explanation than that.

Overall, a very enlightening book, but I think a non-fiction and slightly more objective book on the topic would have had a much bigger impact on me than the story Kingsolver tried to craft around the obviously heartbreaking struggle of the Congolese.



I am the oldest sister and a typical teenage girl, oh-jeez-oh-man. All I want is to go back to Georgia and kiss boys outside the soda bar, but instead here I am stuck in the Congo with unconditioned hair and ants and caterpillars and scary-but-with-a-heart-of-gold black people. Jeez Louise, the life of a missionary's daughter. Also I make a whole lot of hilarious Malabarisms, that's just one of the tenants of my faith. There's two of them now! Man oh man.


The other day, Anatole rushed into our hut all excited about news from the wider world. ‘Great events are underway, Miss Price!’ he said. ‘Oh really?’ I asked, wondering if he would do for a love interest. ‘What's happening?’

Anatole took a deep breath. ‘Well, in the fallout from the Léopoldville riots, the report of a Belgian parliamentary working group on the future of the Congo was published in which a strong demand for "internal autonomy" was noted. August de Schryver, the Minister of the Colonies, launched a high-profile Round Table Conference in Brussels in January 1960, with the leaders of all the major Congolese parties in attendance. Lumumba, who had been arrested following riots in Stanleyville, was released in the run-up to the conference and headed the MNC-L delegation. The Belgian government had hoped for a period of at least 30 years before independence, but Congolese pressure at the conference led to 30 June 1960 being set as the date. Issues including federalism, ethnicity and the future role of Belgium in Congolese affairs were left unresolved after the delegates failed to reach agreement,’ he said.

‘Well I guess that's us brought up to date, then,’ I sighed. Anatole folded up his printout from Wikipedia and left the hut.


Sunrise unties blue skies clockwise. Pinot noir, caviar, mid-sized car, Roseanne Barr. I have a slightly deformed body and I Do Not Speak, which means I have more time for deep, ponderous internal monologues and wordplay. Ponder. Red nop. That's my thing – I say words backwards. Ti t'nsi, gniyonna? For you see, each of us Price girls needs a distinctive stylistic tic, otherwise we'd all sound exactly the same. Bath, sack, cock, cash, tab! There's a palindrome for you. No nasal task, Congo – loud duolog nocks Atlas anon. Good luck finding a profound thematic message in one of these. But if I run out of them, I guess I could always just go through the nearest Kikongo dictionary for material. *flips to page 342* Nkusu means ‘parrot’ but nkusi means ‘fart’. Hmmm. I wonder how many paragraphs I can get out of that?


I am just a widdle girl. I don't understand half of the things I see around me, which is just as well, given all the conflict diamonds and CIA agents I keep stumbling on. I play with all the children in the village, even though I have no toys, which is sad. If one of the village children dies, it's just as sad and tragic as if one of us cute little white girls dies. Well, not really, obviously, otherwise the whole book would have been about a Congolese family in the first place, but maybe if I keep saying it you'll at least think about it for a couple of minutes. Daddy doesn't seem to like the Congolese at all. Our daddy is such a big meanie. He loves god a whole bunch but he's just awful to Mother and my sisters. He's just the nastiest ogre you can imagine. ’Course, I guess he probably wouldn't see things that way. That's why we don't let him narrate any chapters of his own.

Paul Bryant

Reviewing in the face of the great billows of love projected towards this novel is a hapless task, your hat blows off and your eyes get all teary and if you say one wrong thing small children run out of nowhere and stone you or just bite your calves. So I shall this one time sheathe my acid quill. But I can't resist just a couple of little points though -

1) you have to suspend great balefuls of disbelief. These kids, they're awfully highfalutin with their fancy flora and fauna and fitful forensic philosophising. And the mother is worse, you can see where they get it from.

2) I don't care for the historical novel/film cliche where a character rushes in and clues us up to the bigger picture - "Have you heard, Sophie? War has broken out between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Turks, the English fleet has just been sunk, the king has fled and we have a new Pope" "Why Sir Marmalade Gin-Rummy, you don't say so, and how is the Queen?" "The Queen has syphilis and now barks like a very dog" etc etc.

3) For 350 pages the writing is lovely and the recreation of one tiny corner of the Congo convinced me. Ah if it was only all like that, then we could remain friends and there would be no tears before bedtime.

4) After that it goes really wrong. I mean, seriously.

5) But 350 pages can't be denied. It's more than you get from most books.

Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

5 epic, no wonder this book is so well-loved stars, to The Poisonwood Bible! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Review of the audio. ?

The Price family, including minister father, Nathan, mother, Orleanna, and four daughters, traveled to the Belgian Congo in the late 1950s to serve a Baptist mission. The mom and daughters are the narrators, and I enjoyed the audio narrator’s voices for each of the characters (even her southern accent wasn’t too off the mark!). I do have to warn for audio fans, there were so many characters and voices, making it hard for me to keep track with just the audio. I will most definitely be reading this book in the future, once I’ve forgotten a little.

The writing was atmospheric without being overly detailed. The characters were as round as round could be. I felt all kinds of emotions while listening. There was tragedy, there was joy, but overall, the tone was somber, and much of that was due to the political stirrings in Congo at the time, as well as due to Nathan’s harsh enforcement of his interpretations of the Bible.

The book was epic in proportions because it covered this entire family over a long period of time, and not a stone was left unturned. Overall, I enjoyed every bit of it.

*A couple sidenotes. This book has been languishing on my shelf un-read since Oprah chose it for her book club. I’m so glad I finally read it. This was a Traveling Sister read, which I enjoyed immensely! ? As I read the book, I wondered how the author thought up all this story! The Author’s Note explained it in detail.

Alisa Muelleck

People love this book, and I think I understand why. It's got a collection of strong characters, each chapter is written from a different character's point of view, and it's set in Africa, which is exciting. But there are a few reasons I don't think it's great literature.

The main things I expect from a good novel are: a) that the writer doesn't manipulate her characters for her agenda, b) that the characters' actions are consistent to the world the writer has created for them, c) good, tight prose, and d) the characters are nuanced and aren't entirely perfect or hideous. In this novel, the father character is entirely hideous and the mother and each daughter represent a plight of some kind. Their existence is to present arguments for and against lots of important issues in Africa, but for me that kind of thing is an extremely dissatisfying fiction experience.

I suppose there is an argument for fictionalizing reality in order to make it more palatable and invite a larger audience to your cause, but I don't think this novel is successful in that regard. I found it overly preachy, critical, and completely disrespectful to its characters, whom I believe deserve a better story in which to thrive.