When I lend a friend one of my most-loved books, I always feel some mild anxiety, hoping that they will love my book baby as much as I do. It isn’t always the case, and it makes me a little sad when it happens, like maybe my friend and I have different views on the ‘important’ things. Obviously that’s a bit over-dramatic, but that pang is felt for about 0.1 of a second before I get over it. Recently, one of my friends let me borrow her favourite book of all time, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and I felt the reverse pressure – hoping I wouldn’t hate her book baby.
I needn’t have worried, because The Poisonwood Bible was a very enjoyable read. The story is about an evangelical Baptist, Nathan, who takes his wife and four daughters from the US to Congo in 1959, where he is to be a village missionary. Each chapter of the book is told through the eyes of a different female member of the family, and we follow their story over a few decades, following not only the events of the family members but also the events happening in the world around them, in post-colonial Africa.
This is a long book with a lot of character development and depth to it. One of the things I both enjoyed and got irritated at was the switch of narration between characters. I thought it was effective on the one hand because it provided a bigger umbrella of stories within the story, more attachment to certain characters, and kept the pace of the novel going despite its length. But this switching of narrators irritated me at times for a few reasons. Actually, only one main reason, now that I think about it, just with different examples. The reason is this: I wanted to know more. We see Nathan losing himself over time, but we only ever get to hear from the females and never from Nathan. Why not? I wanted to know what was going on in his mind. We see the mother give up and sink into despair, leaving the girls to take care of things for a time. What tipped her over the edge? What was she thinking at the time? And sometimes one narrator will mention something that is happening to one of the other girls but we don’t get the story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. It just left me wanting more at times.
Wanting to know more is not, however, a major complaint. It’s actually a good thing that Barbara Kingsolver’s writing had me so interested in the lives of her characters that I wanted to know every little thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and felt like I was actually there sometimes, seeing ants march along the ground or sensing the expanse of the river. While I don’t list this as one of my ultimate favourites, it is definitely worth a read, and I’m glad that I finally took the time to.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: 4 out of 5 stars.