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Book Review of The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible
perryfran avatar reviewed on + 1139 more book reviews

I remember reading a review of this novel in the Washington Post when it was first published in 1998. I have been meaning to read it ever since then and I know I have owned more than one copy of this that seemed to have gotten away from me during one of our moves. Anyway, I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. The novel is set in the Congo starting in about 1960 and tells the story of the Price family from Georgia who go there following the father of clan who is an overzealous Baptist missionary who feels it is his purpose to save everyone he can to the light of Jesus Christ. The novel is narrated by the mother Orelanna and her four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. The Congo is not as the family expected and is full of hardship and grief. The people there are mostly starving, the jungle is full of danger including snakes, leopards, and insects that cause diseases such as malaria. There are also driver ants: "We were walking on, surrounded, enclosed, enveloped, being eaten by ants. Every surface was covered and boiling, and the path like black flowing lava in the moonlight..." The four children react differently to their father's work but when poisonous snakes are planted in their house, they try to convince him to leave. He refuses and a tragedy results which instigates Orelanna and her daughters to leave. The novel goes on to describe what happens to the three daughters in a rather long ending section.

The novel is also an indictment of colonialism and the Belgium exploitation of the Congo and its people. When the country obtains independence in 1960, the people hope for a better life. However, things may have gotten worse. The U.S. helped to install the dictator Joseph Mobutu who bled the country to pay for his mansions and wealth. While he paid Muhammed Ali and George Forman $5 million each to stage a prize fight in what was then Zaire, the people of the country were starving. The plight of the African people in the Congo is very heartrending and things don't seem to have gotten much better to this day.

Overall, this was a very enlightening look at the Congo and the situation there. The population has been exploited ever since the Portuguese first discovered the Congo river in the sixteenth century. The novel discusses these many downsides to European and U.S. involvement in trying to govern this vast wilderness and how the country has been raped for its resources for centuries. A high recommendation for this one although I thought the last part of the novel could have been shortened quite a bit. The story seemed to have an ending when the family leaves the Congo but the novel goes on for over 100 more pages telling what happened to the mother and daughters. I also read another very pertinent book about the Congo several months ago that I would also recommend highly: BLOOD RIVER by Tim Butcher.

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