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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, 1998, * * * * *

In The Poisonwood Biblem Barbara Kingsolver ventures intrepidly out of her familiar Southwest settings to create a story of calamitous undoing in the Belgian Congo of 1959. The daughters and wife of controlling, abusive evangelist Nathan Price recount alternating versions of the events that take place after their family arrives in the fictional village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo, and defines how each of the female family members passes the next thirty years. From the beginning, Nathan's obsession with "converting the natives" to Christianity is met with open hostility (a logical reaction to his insistence on baptism in crocodile-infested waters) and makes both him and his essentially captive family the mortal enemies of a local witch doctor. The Prices' ill-fated interactions with the community are entwined with the larger political upheaval pervading the country (i.e., independence from brutal Belgian rule, the assassination of the country's first autonomous leader and subsequent CIA-aided, UN-sanctioned rule by the ruthless Mobutu), providing a thorough, thought-provoking, and indicting look into the ruin wrought in Africa at the hands of its colonizers. The voices of the characters are authentic and believable and I was absolutely spellbound by the way the voices changed and developed over time.

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