The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver {a review}

We bought this book a few months ago, to read. It came highly recommended by several friends, and even our old church back in Waco, UBC.

The Poisonwood Bible, is a story about a family that uproots themselves from Bethlehem, GA and moves to the Congo in the 1960’s as missionaries. It is told by the Mother, Orleanna and her 4 daughters; Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May. The father, Nathan is a bible thumping baptist preacher who means to save the Congo by baptizing all the children. His technique is nothing to preach home about and I am quiet sure would send most Seminarians to tears. The book revolves around the impact the Congo makes on these women/girls and the impact they make on the Congo. As one character states, “You can’t sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back.” (pg 515) But it is how each character is changed that amazes the reader. Another character is often wondering, “Beto nki tutasala? What are we doing?” (p 523) I found it hard to connect with only a single character, on a certain level I see myself as the mother, trying to show her children the world around them and save them at the same time from the things of the world. I see myself as the selfish, hard nose Rachel. Determined that in the end, everything will work out in her favor. I understand Leah’s love of her father and utter disappointment in the world and  having learned to, “trust in Creation” (p 525).  Where as Adah is too left brained, logical and scientific for me to understand but I appreciate her. Her understanding that, “culture is a slingshot moved by the force of its past” and learning to “honor the balance between loss and salvation” (p 528). What I totally understand from Adah is her understanding of God, “everything” (p 528). He is in the wind, the ants, the mountains and everything that is or will ever be. And Ruth May’s child like faith and wonder in the world. To explore and not understand the stresses of life happening around her.

My favorite line from this book and I guess take away is, “the mistakes are part of the story” (p 533) our story, God’s story. I wondered at points through this book, how I would have handled life in the Congo, with an abusive pastor father and a submissive mother. How could something like this NOT affect you. I went into reading this book with little to no knowledge of how life as a missionary works, how to survive the Congo, or the things it throws at you. I went into this book having no idea how stubborn and thick skulled some people could be after seeing life in a small village in the Congo. This book has changed how I think of evangelism, locally, nationally and international. I highly recommend this book, the characters are as real as you and me. Their struggles changed how I view those around me. How I view nature, God, life and “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them…and I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)


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