BOOK REVIEW: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This is the last one of the books that I mysteriously bought while Little O was days old and forgot about. Once again I really had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it. I am starting to enjoy this approach to new books more and more since it means no pre-conceived notions or expectations of what is to come. 

The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of The Prices, a family of Southern Bapists who travel to the then Congo in 1959 with the intention of converting the residents of the town of Kilanga to Christianity.

Nathaniel Price is a passionate, stubborn preacher who believes he can control any circumstances that get in his way through sheer determination and his belief  that the will of god is surely on his side. If that doesn’t suffice, violence will do. This includes ensuring the obedience of his long-suffering wife, Orleanna and four daughters.

As the family attempts to adjust to their new surroundings it soon becomes evident that circumstances in their favour are vastly outnumbered by those against them. The local people have rich traditions of their own and are extremely suspicious of Reverend Price’s fervent desire to baptise their children in the crocodile infested river. The natural environment itself is brutal, unstoppable and almost unconquerable. And the political landscape is beset with turmoil and uncertainty on the eve of independence.

As the five Price women unfurl the tale of their seventeen months in the jungle it becomes evident that the entire enterprise was ill-advised, if not doomed from the start and that they will be forever changed or possibly even infected by their time in Africa.

The Poisonwood Bible has been criticised for being anti-Christian and anti-American as it explores themes of colonialism, capitalism at all cost and ethnocentrism. Ultimately I think Kingsolver’s message is fair, if brutal. At the same time her character development is excellent as is her descriptive ability. I often felt like I was living beside the Prices and their neighbours. It’s not often that I have to choke back the tears reading on the tube.

A truly powerful epic that I can imagine revisiting and one of the best novels I have read in recent years.



  1. This sounds great – definitely making my “to read” list. Though currently any book is taking months to get through…

    1. I read exactly zero books on maternity leave. It’s so hard to muster the time and energy. I still pretty much only read on the train.

  2. I have thought of reading this but somehow never did. Thanks for the review.

    1. If I read the description, I am not sure I would have gone for it. It was a very pleasant surprise.

  3. I’ve had this book for years but have yet to read it. Sounds like I should give it a go.

    1. I think you’d really enjoy it.

  4. Sounds very good, Abbi. That was a terrible time in the Congo, and this sounds like it might be a good film too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. The novel really shows the impact on everyday people and their struggles. I think it could very well be a good film. It would need a skilled director.

  5. It’s wonderful when you grab a great book.

    1. There is not much that tops a great novel!

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