The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

Poisonwood“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.”

I read this on the heels of The Mosquito Coast and was entrenched in a deep fascination with post-colonial family sagas led by fervent, overbearing patriarchs.  Kingsolver’s epic is deftly woven from the voices of the women of the Price family as they are moved to the mission field of the Belgian Congo in 1950’s by their misguided and over-zealous husband/father. Their voices are distinct and poetic, a horrifying and beautiful tapestry of pain and transformation. As a critical reflection on colonial history and patriarchy it is also a fiercely emotional exploration of family, growing up, loss and recovery. This is not an easy novel to read, but it is powerful and moving. Through the broken history of one African nation Kingsolver challenges our acceptance of cultural norms and beliefs and opens the door to questions of our own culpability in cultural privilege and hegemony.

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