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The Poisonwood Bible 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 inThey 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 RACHELI 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.LEAHThe other day, Anatole rushed i RACHELI 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.LEAHThe 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 L opoldville 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.ADAHSunrise 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 havetime 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 RUTH MAYI 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 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 Trai 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.https www.goodreads.com review show 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 farcomplex, 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 becominglike 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 itthan 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, 1999https www.goodreads.com review showOn the Missionary Trail, Hiney, 2001https www.goodreads.com review showGive Me this Mountain, Roseveare, 1966https www.goodreads.com review showThis 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 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 For what I consider better work, and no less controversial, check out my review and follow up comments discussion of Roots by Alex Haley.https www.goodreads.com review showThis title came up in discussion as a non fiction resource for learning about the African continent as a whole.The Fate of Africa, Meredith, 2005https www.goodreads.com review show 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 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 thisthought 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 anythan 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,complex,demanding work that is evensatisfying 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 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 butaware 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 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 butaware 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 GuardianThis 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 s 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 somedimension, 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 STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter and FB pagesReviews of other Kingsolver books The Lacuna Flight Behavior Unsheltered

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