Some schools have updated their reading lists, dropping certain Literary Classics and replacing them with books such as this—and with good reason. The Poisonwood Bible stands as Barbara Kingsolver’s Magnus Opus; her writing is evidence of unfettered brilliance, sheer determination, and her unequivocal way of sharing a story.
Many reviewers have tried to summarize Kingsolver’s work, but everything can be brought down to the same sentence found upon the back of the book: “While my husband’s intentions crystallized as rock salt, and while I preoccupied myself with private survival, the Congo breathed behind the curtain of forest, preparing to roll over us like a river.”
This fictionalized tale is told from the perspective of a mother and her four children, as they follow their obstinate husband and father into the central cavity of the African Congo. A layer of flesh is removed with each chapter, as the changing perspective moves the reader closer to the heart of pain, suffering, and survival. The mother’s verse is followed by her daughters’ chorus.
To keep each perspective unique, the author made some interesting stylistic decisions—most awed me, but some confused me. My favorite perspective was the mother, who was poetic in her vivid imagery. However, one of her daughters was seen as vain, who would misspell words and confuse idioms, which I imagine was an editorial conundrum. And while not my favorite perspective to read, I was quite impressed by the author’s ability to channel endless palindromes through one of the four girls.
I would go so far as to say, you cannot read this book without feeling a connection with the characters, the Congo, and the world-at-large. Your perspective of the world around you will change when you adorn yourself with Poisonwood-colored glasses. I find this true as I look around at the American Culture around me and my own religion. With that said, this is not an easy read; your feelings will be touched, and you may even shed some tears, but the journey is well worth the taking.