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Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Poisonwood Bible (1998) by Barbara Kingsolver

Book Review
The Poisonwood Bible (1998)
by Barbara Kingsolver

   I bought The Poisonwood Bible in an airport book shop, on the theory that it is one of a very few number of 1001 Books titles that one can buy in an airport book shop.  The fact that this book, of all books, is one of a small handful- alongside books like The Lord of the Rings and Catcher in the Rye, off the list that you can find in any English language airport in the entire world should tell you that The Poisonwood Bible has a huge audience- still, a full twenty years after the initial publication in 1998.   The Poisonwood Bible also had critical acclaim- finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and generally laudatory reviews.  Still there is no dressing up the fact that The Poisonwood Bible is about the adventures of a family of white, southern women who are transplanted to the Congo months before the chaotic onset of indepence by their preacher-man father.

 Kingsolver splits the narrative between all the female members of the family, all of them have a different perspective on an admittedly difficult situation.  The circumstances of The Poisonwood Bible famously mimc Kingsolver's actual biography.   When one imagines the horrors that were faced by the actual native populations of the Congo, The Poisonwood Bible is a decidedly PG affair.  At 550 page, the traumatic events surrounding Congolese independence function as a mid-point in the narrative.  Afterwards, the mom of the family retreats entirely from narrator duty and the daughters take over: One becomes a doctor specializing in infectious disease, one marries a Boer South African and then leave him for a French diplomat before settling down as the widowed owner of a hotel for foreign businessmen.  The third daughter marries a boy for the village, who becomes a teacher and later a political prisoner in Mobutu's Zaire.

  There's no denying the incredible audience that Kingsolver found for her life-based tale. She is also the rare American writer who writes about something other than America. Very rare in American literary fiction!

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