Over the last few months, ever since I started my blog, I’ve been thinking about all the books I’ve read in the past and loved. Some of these were big hits at the time and have been forgotten, some have become classics since, some – I’m discovering – aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember them. Without meaning to, I realised I’ve been picking these books up as I wander round the library and, although I wasn’t planning on reviewing them, I thought I might start sharing them as I revisited them….at least the ones I’d still recommend!
First up is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which I first read about 10 years ago.
In 1959, Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist Minister from Georgia, takes his wife and four daughters to Kilanga, a small village in the Belgian Congo to carry out missionary work. A religious zealot, he sets about trying to convert the local population but, having made no effort to understand the them, ends up alienating the villagers instead. At the same time, his wife and daughters struggle to come to terms with their new lives and how they fit into the world in which they find themselves. It is through their eyes – primarily those of the four girls – that the story of what happens next is told. Not surprisingly, each has a very different reaction to the village, the people and the Congo. As their father becomes more fanatical, two events change their lives forever. We follow each woman from these events and through their lives (up until the 1990s).
The Poisonwood Bible tells not only the story of a family but also a nation as an independent Congo struggles to emerge. It is well written and very detailed, drawing you in to what life was like for the Congolese during a time of incredible change, it’s beauty and the dis-service that has been done to it. I know that, since first reading it, my knowledge of the Congo and it’s history is much greater and I think I got more out of this side of the novel as a result. However, I felt I was being told what to think at times, although from the different perspectives of the daughters. I would have liked a little more space to make my own opinions.
I remember very little about the story the Congo played in this book. My memories were mainly of the father and how he behaved. I didn’t remember the ending and, I discovered, huge chunks of the storyline. Perhaps because of this, the story still felt fresh to me and I really enjoyed it. I wished I’d liked the daughters more – I found them a little too stereotyped and pretty unsympathetic but, despite this, I still raced through the book, turning pages to see what happened next, and so – yes – I would still recommend it.