Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This book sat on my shelf for almost a year, before I even had the courage to pick it up. Its sheer length intimidate me, and, to be honest, I kind of turned up my nose at it. Since the James Frey fiasco, I've been wary of books with Oprah's seal of approval on the cover.
Needless to say, I was just being stupid.

I finished this book weeks ago, and I didn't write anything about it until today. There are so many things I want to say about its scope, its characters, its emotional depth, and, lastly, its complete magnificence. I wanted to set my thoughts straigh before unleashing them into the Internet, afraid that I might miss something.

Nathan Price is basically a mashochistic and chauvinist preacer hellbent on spreading God's word to the people on the Congo. He, his wife, and their four daughters head to Africa, and find themselves in the village of Kilanga. To quote Rachel Price, one if Nathan's daughters, they thought they would run the village, but it's clear they're not in charge of a thing. Not even themselves. The book follows the lives of the Prices over the course of 30 years.

In Kikongo, the language of the people of Kilanga, the world bangala can mean two things depending on how you pronounce it--the beloved Jesus or the poisonwood tree. I think we all know who Jesus is, but the poisonwood, on the other hand, is a tree you should stay far, far away from. If you get close to it, rashes will show up on your entire body.

While preaching, Nathan repeatedly says poisonwood instead of Jesus, and the entire congregation just listens on, openmouthed. Nathan might be an assole, but his intentions are good. He wants to save the Africans, but he ends up poisoning their minds against the one he wants them to love. God.

If there's one thing that metaphor taught me, it's tolerance. You don't have to agree with or like another person's political or religious beliefs, but you have to let them believe in it anyway. We all have the right to choose, and no one should ever take that away from us. Just because the Africans believe in the powers of witch doctors and their ancestors doesn't mean that Nathan has to stuff his beliefs down their throats.

The book also touched on something I've been wondering about for a while. One of the Price daughters (I forgot which) stated that religion is just a matter of chance. For example, a boy is born in a Catholic country, and was baptized a Catholic before he even knew what it meant. This other kid, however, was born in Kilanga and witnessed the rituals of his village while growing up. Which one of them is right? Personally, as long as you respect yourself and other people, I think you're going to turn out fine.

Also, I know The Poisonwood Bible is mostly about imperialism and the aftereffects of colionialism, but the plight of the people of the Congo made me think of my country. I live in the Philippines, and it's a third world country. There's no nice way to say it, so I'm just going to throw it out there.

When I was still in school, I never thought twice about taxes and where they went. Now that I'm an employed so-called adult who pays taxes, I've started watching the news, and, for the first time in my life, I've started to care. I know what I'm contributing isn't much, but it can be comforting at night to think that a portion of my salary is helping kids get new textbooks. Then, I turn on the TV, and hear all about these assholes/government officials who have dollar accounts/multi-billion condominiums/plantations/all of the above, and it just makes me so angry.

I can see myself in the people in The Poisonwood Bible with Mobutu and his crazy mansions, because I see the same thing in the news practically every night. It’s just so frustrating because you have no idea what you can do about it. You can sign petitions and go on rallies, but what’s that really going to do? The shanties made from bits of corrugated iron and wood will still be there.

But moving on.

I highly recommend The Poisonwood Bible, and, if you can get your hands on a copy, please read it. I’ve already said this much about it, but I don’t think I’m done yet.

20 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I put off reading this book for many years, and then finally I decided to listen to the audio version. I thought it was fantastic. Glad u enjoyed it as well.

Nymeth said...

I definitely need to read this. I recently finished Kingslover's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it made me want to try her fiction.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I think this book and The Lacuna vie for my favorite Kingsolver novel. Thanks for the review.

Reading Rambo said...

http://brokehoedown.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/hipster-gaston-oprah.jpg?w=500

Courtesy of Meg at The Terrible Desire.

I've had a copy of this for a few years, but haven't gotten to it yet. I'm glad it's good.

Kate said...

This is one of my very favorite books. It's sitting on my re read stack right now! ;)

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm so glad you got around to reading this and loved it. I was struck by the richness of the language Kingsolver used. Beautiful.

Laura said...

Wow, it only sat on your shelf for a year? That's pretty good going! I got this book out of the library and promptly bought it as soon as I'd finished it- it is that good! And YES to the religion just being culturally determined thing!

Zibilee said...

I read this book twice, almost back to back, so I can attest to how good it was. I think you make some excellent points about religion, and have to admit that I have thought of these things before as well. I really liked your review today, and I also like that you have been seeking to make each review more personal and interjecting bits about your life and your thoughts. It's neat getting to know you a little better.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

So glad you enjoyed it, as it is one of my favourite books ever. I have read it twice so far.

I liked the points you made about religion as I've long thought that myself. I grew up without any kind of religion so don't have one now, whereas my friend grew up with Christianity so is one.

Kailana said...

I own this but haven't read it. It is just sitting on my shelves waiting for attention. I have heard lots of good things about it, so I really should get around to reading it!

Audra said...

Great review and comments -- I read this once, resentfully, and was surprised to love it (I'm not a Kingsolver fan). But the narrative, the symbolism, and the loveliness of the writing just won me over.

I so feel you on the challenge of motivating change -- I try to do as much justice advocacy as I can, but I'm torn: service, legislation, rallies ... it's so hard sometimes.

Brenna said...

I've avoided this book for the same reason you did for a year - it's size is a bit intimidating. But it TOTALLY sounds like it's worth the read. Great review!

Brenna said...

I've avoided this book for the same reason you did for a year - it's size is a bit intimidating. But it TOTALLY sounds like it's worth the read. Great review!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read this before I started blogging, but I loved it! Adah's character was especially memorable to me.

Jessica said...

I keep seeing this around in 2nd hand bookstores (didnt it win the Orange prize?)

I will pick this up next time I see it

Kristi said...

I love this book! I'm so glad you loved it as well. It's probably been 8 years since I've read it. I need to do a reread. The whole tolerance issue really hit home with me. Who are we to assume that our way of life or culture is better? Such ignorance. It's okay for us all to be different, and it's actually a good thing.

Megs said...

I bought this book for $1 last year and read it in just a couple of days because I was sick and couldn't do anything else. It was maybe not the best sick read because the darkness of it all really weighs down on you. I've known too many people like Nathan who make me embarrassed to categorize myself in the same religion, so I wanted to cause him physical pain at several points in the story. It's a powerful book, for sure.

Elemillia Ucselub said...

I really liked your heartfelt take on this book. It's really nice to find out that so many others, including, have found this book so powerful. Check my take, if you get a chance. Thanks!

http://personalliterarybookfrenzy.blogspot.com/2012/03/poisonwood-bible.html

Miss Marj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miss Marj said...

This book is still on my shelf (and also in my TBR pile for the last six months). But after reading your take on The Poisonwood Bible, I'm going to read it ASAP. :)

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...