The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Posted on April 18, 2013 12:37 am

I read The Poisonwood Bible seven years ago for the first time, and since then its one of the few books that have left me with an uneasy sense that something is not right in the contents of the book. This is the latest edition that features extra sixteen pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more additional content. It is the best of the multiple versions so far published. The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carried with them everything they believed could be needed away from home. As the story continues, they soon find that everything from garden seeds to scripture is transformed on African soil in a devastating manner. After that stage, a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Front cover of the latest version of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Front cover of the latest version of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Historical setting of The Poisonwood Bible is the Belgium Congo of the 1960’s. The author states that the events in the characters’ lives are fiction, but the historical backdrop is real.  Barbara’s book describes plenty of historical events that took place in Belgian Congo at that time, and has her book characters draw conclusions from those events. For those who don’t know I’m an atheist and a committed one to be precise but I dislike any content that demeans other people’s beliefs and religions. I do disagree with Barbara Kingsolver’s comparison of Jesus to poisonwood, a noxious plant in Africa similar to poison ivy that brings irritation to anyone who comes in contact with it. Barbara Kingsolver’s criticism of Christianity as a religion is clear in statements such as, “Priests held mass baptisms on the shore and marched their converts onto ships bound for sugar plantations in Brazil, slaves to the higher god of commodity agriculture,” and “Poor Congo, beautiful bride of men who took her jewels and promised her the kingdom.” This in my opinion is distasteful to those who adore Jesus and Christianity as their religion.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver chapters
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver chapters

In addition to that, Kingsolver patterns her book after Scripture. The book is divided into seven main divisions, entitled “Genesis,” “Revelation,” “The Judges,” “Bel and the Serpents,” “Song of Three Children,” and “The Eyes in the Trees.” The eyes in the trees make one think of the serpent in the tree in the Garden of Eden. The comparison of The Poisonwood Bible to The Holy Bible is evident and although I have never read The Holy Bible, an email exchange with a theologian friend confirmed it. Kingsolver very effectively begins and ends her story viewed through the eyes of the mamba snake as though they were the reader’s eyes viewing the characters. Kingsolver criticizes the Western powers for trying to intervene when the Congo became independent in 1960 and Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister.

Introduction page of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Introduction page of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver books makes it clear how Congo was exploited for gold, diamonds, copper, ivory, and slaves, a trend that continues to this date. The most sought after is Uranium, because according to the author, it was of strategic importance in the cold war. If do like books that make your mind engaged fully, I can assure you this updated version of The Poisonwood Bible will take you on an epic journey to show what can happen when two sides disagree. I have never been to Belgian Congo, which is today known as Democratic Republic of Congo but a friend who has been there tells me the country is blessed with mineral wealth but its population remains in abject poverty. There’s a lot of politics and a lot of history in this book but it is interesting to learn about the past that I never witnessed, and the way Kingsolver puts everything in context, is simply awesome. This is a wonderful, beautiful book, and I am sure I will read again many times again in the future.

Back cover of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Back cover of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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