The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was first published in 1998. The novel tells the story of a Southern Baptist family from Bethlehem, GA whose strong-willed father takes them to the Congo as missionaries.
While Nathan, the father, is whole-heartedly devoted to their mission, the rest of the family (his wife, Orleanna, and daughters Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May) begin to view the countless obstacles and extreme hardships they face in Africa as reasons to doubt their place in the small village of Kilanga as missionaries.
I loved this book. Barbara Kingsolver is a fantastic author who seamlessly weaves accurate scientific, cultural, and political information in with her fictional stories. Not only was I fascinated by the story of the Price family, I also learned a tremendous amount about natural and cultural life in Africa in the 1960’s. Information on African post-colonial politics that was not taught to me in school was brought to life in this book.
I was equally fascinated and repulsed by Nathan Price’s religious mission and views that led him to hate the village of Kilanga and the women in his family. The story’s narrators alternate between the women in the family, Orleanna, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. All of the characters change dramatically throughout the course of the novel and these changes are revealed through their narration.
I highly recommend this book for anyone that is interested in reading a well-crafted novel, Christian fundamentalism, 1960’s post-colonial Africa, or wants a lesson in how to develop characterization throughout a novel in an organic way.