In The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.) by Barbara Kingsolver, Nathan Price is a Baptist missionary who goes to the Congo for a year. He takes with him his wife and their four daughters. The story is told from the points of view of the wife and daughters. The main portion of the book focuses on the year they were in Kilanga, Congo and how that brief time affected them.
The five women telling the story are Orleanna Price, Nathan Price’s wife. She is the force trying to hold them all together and get them through this year all the while being totally unprepared. Rachel Price is the eldest daughter. She is almost 16 when the story begins and the best I can describe her is as a beauty queen wannabe. My favorite quote comes much later in the book, but best describes Rachel. Orleanna asks Adah how Rachel is doing and the following is her response…”In spite of remarkable intervening circumstances,” I said, “if Rachel ever gets back to Bethlehem for a high school reunion she will win the prize for ‘Changed the Least.'”
Next are the twins Leah and Adah Price. Leah thinks her father is as great as God himself and Adah is the opposite. There is some guilt and resentment between the two sisters because although they are twins, Adah suffers from hemiplegia, where half her brain didn’t receive enough blood. “And so it came to pass, in the Eden of our mother’s womb, I was cannibalized by my sister.” -Adah describing her condition.
The last ‘voice’ is Ruth May, the five year old child of Orleanna and Nathan Price. This is probably my favorite voice. It is well written and interesting to read the account through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand what is going on around her.
My favorite character is Leah Price. At the beginning of the book, all she wanted to do was be like her father. Her father was everything to her and somewhere along the way she sees her father for who he is. He is a man who makes mistakes like the rest of us. Leah learns to think for herself. She also does not turn her back on what she sees going on around her. She has a strong sense of fairness and justice and tries to use her knowledge to help the Congolese.
I enjoyed reading about the Congolese culture and way of life. I loved how Anatole, the school teacher, would explain to Leah how politics affected the inhabitants of the jungle…it didn’t. Their way of life went on the same as before, trying to survive and being content with what they had.
It mainly takes place in the Congo during the government upheaval in the 1960’s. The book intricately weaves fact with fiction making you want to know more. As the Congo is in a state of disarray each woman is forced to reach inside herself in way of survival. For example, at the beginning of the book, Orleanna is trying to take everything they may need while they are in the Congo, only to find out they have taken the wrong items. She has packed cake mixes for the girls’ birthdays except the climate has hardened the mixes and they would not be able to bake them in the wood fire oven anyway. Also, they have packed a hammer, except there aren’t any nails in the jungle. While trying to be practical, the items they took with them were useless.
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.) is a book about the choices we make given our circumstances, about learning the way of others and realizing that life is not always about us. It is about yielding to the jungle, a way of life completely different from America. As Rachel says towards the end of the book, “You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back.”