The Poisonwood Bible
She spent years researching her eighth novel, studying dozens and dozens of books about African history and the Congolese language, reading and re-reading the King James Bible front-to-back and back-to-front, thumbing through pop-culture magazines of the 1960s, and traveling to Central Africa. We'd like to welcome to Shmoop, Baaaarbaraaaa Kingsoooooolllllvveeer!
Ahem. Sorry. We got a little attack of Oprah-itis there. Can you blame us? Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible was chosen for Oprah's Book Club in June 2000 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer and Orange Prizes. So, yeah. It's kind of a big deal.
In the book, Nathan Price, a Southern Baptist missionary, drags his family on a mission to the Congo. What's supposed to last a year ends up lasting a lifetime. Some of the family leaves, others stay—but they all carry Africa with them forever.
The novel focuses on the Price daughters: Leah's devoted earnestness, to Adah's backwards poetry, to Rachel's... well, Rachel can read a bit like Hilly Holbrook. But the book isn't just about this mildly dysfunctional family. It also deals with broad political issues, like the United States' involvement in Congolese politics; religious questions, like how do you trust the word of God when it's been mistranslated by fallible people; and social issues, like where in the world will Rachel find a good shampoo in the middle of the jungle?
Kingsolver lived in the Congo as a girl. She is an advocate for social change, and The Poisonwood Bible is an important book about the world and our place in it. But never fear. It's at least as much jungle romp as it is earnest lecture—so don't worry about getting lost in the jungle. We'll be here to help you find your way out.
Why Should I Care?
Why should you care? Because Oprah said so, that's why.
Not convinced? Fine. It's a good thing there's another, much better (depending on who you ask) reason to care about The Poisonwood Bible: it's about adapting to change and making a difference. Whether you're starting college or a new job, moving to a new city or moving to a new country, you have to learn how to adapt. And if you're lucky, you'll make a positive impact on someone else's life along the way.
The Price family's journey couldn't be more extreme. They pick up from their cushy life in metropolitan Atlanta and take off to the middle of the Congolese jungle. It's a struggle, especially with their parents emotionally distant (to put it mildly). The sisters have to do it for themselves, but they learn to survive using the resources at hand and, most importantly, their wits.
Each daughter—even Rachel—has something to teach us. And if we read carefully, maybe someday we, too, can make a difference.