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The Poisonwood Bible

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The Poisonwood Bible Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
God's Kingdom in its pure, unenlightened glory. So fourteen-year-old Leah Price expects when, in the summer of 1959, she arrives in the Congo with her family. Her Baptist-preacher father, Reverend Nathan Price, assigned to Kilanga mission, is determined to enlighten the savages and to rule his family with strict biblical sanction. Leah's twin, Adah, the victim of hemiplegia at birth, limps along and maintains silence. Fifteen-year-old Rachel resents being dropped on " this dread dark shore" far from America's fashions and comforts. Ruth May, five years old, faints. And their mother, Orleanna, readies herself to protect them all from whatever perils may come--from jungle, river, or father and his terrible God. From 1959 through 1998, the Price sisters tell their stories, in alternating narratives that reflect their ages as the years pass and the understandings that they achieve. Those stories--together with Orleanna's retrospective commentaries--reveal the amazing forty-year saga that the Prices and the Congo share. Cultural and spiritual conflicts, confusion and revelation, hunger and pleasure, cruelties and kindness, suffering and love, all combine with the day-to-day life in Africa's villages to enrich this wondrous tale. This is Barbara Kingsolver's most daring, complex, and rewarding novel--a whopping good story told with tender majesty. The wisdom that Rachel, Adah, Leah, Ruth May, and Orleanna wrest from their lives is also ours.

Topics for Discussion:
1. What are the implications of the novel's title phrase, the poisonwood bible, particularly in connection with the main characters' lives and the novel's main themes? How important are thecircumstances in which the phrase comes into being?

2. How does Kingsolver differentiate among the Price sisters, particularly in terms of their voices? What does each sister reveal about herself and the other three, their relationships, their mother and father, and their lives in Africa? What is the effect of our learning about events and people through the sisters' eyes?

3. What is the significance of the Kikongo word nommo and its attendant concepts of being and naming? Are there Christian parallels to the constellation of meanings and beliefs attached to nommo? How do the Price daughters' Christian names and their acquired Kikongo names reflect their personalities and behavior?

4. The sisters refer repeatedly to balance (and, by implication, imbalance). What kinds of balance--including historical, political, and social--emerge as important? Are individual characters associated with specific kinds of balance or imbalance? Do any of the sisters have a final say on the importance of balance?

5. What do we learn about cultural, social, religious, and other differences between Africa and America? To what degree do Orleanna and her daughters come to an understanding of those differences? Do you agree with what you take to be Kingsolver's message concerning such differences?

6. Why do you suppose that Reverend Nathan Price is not given a voice of his own? Do we learn from his wife and daughters enough information to formulate an adequate explanation for his beliefs and behavior? Does such an explanation matter?

7. What differences and similarities are there among Nathan Price's relationship with his family, Tata Ndu's relationship with his people, and the relationship ofthe Belgian and American authorities with the Congo? Are the novel's political details--both imagined and historical--appropriate?

8. How does Kingsolver present the double themes of captivity and freedom and of love and betrayal? What kinds of captivity and freedom does she explore? What kinds of love and betrayal? What are the causes and consequences of each kind of captivity, freedom, love, and betrayal?

9. At Bikoki Station, in 1965, Leah reflects, " I still know what justice is." Does she? What concept of justice does each member of the Price family and other characters (Anatole, for example) hold? Do you have a sense, by the novel's end, that any true justice has occurred?

10. In Book Six, Adah proclaims, " This is the story I believe in . . ." What is that story? Do Rachel and Leah also have stories in which they believe? How would you characterize the philosophies of life at which Adah, Leah, and Rachel arrive? What story do you believe in?

11. At the novel's end, the carved-animal woman in the African market is sure that " There has never been any village on the road past Bulungu, " that " There is no such village" as Kilanga. What do you make of this?

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tinahartpdx, October 14, 2013 (view all comments by tinahartpdx)
This is one of my most favorite books. Kingsolver crafts the tale from the viewpoints of a mother and her 4 children working as missionaries in the Congo. Their father/husband is not given a distinct voice in the book but instead his character is built through the women. Each voice is distinctly different without being unbelievable. The book is suspenseful, at times frustrating, and very human. It's one that I enjoy reading and re-reading to see how my opinions and views of the characters change based on my own growth.
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Cecil, January 9, 2010 (view all comments by Cecil)
I've always enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver's work, but when this was suggested at my women's book group, I balked at reading it. However, it zoomed to the top of my list of all-time favorites and has stayed there. The writing is wonderful, the story is fascinating and the book has everything: love, mystery, comedy, tragedy, science, nature, history, politics and much more. It is by turns funny, sad, fascinating and educational. I have lots of notes, comments and marks in the margins -- something I haven't done since college -- and many, many pages have been turned down to mark something extraordinary. I have passed this book on to everyone I know and a few people I don't. Each time a friend starts reading it or I buy a copy to give to an acquaintance, I am so excited I read it again myself. Kingsolver deserved every price she received for this and all the ones she did not.
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Laurie Forsman, January 5, 2010 (view all comments by Laurie Forsman)
One of the best! I don't always remember the names of books I've read, but this one I've never forgotten. Everyone should read it.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060930530
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Kingsolver, Barbara
Publisher:
Perennial
Location:
New York :
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Africa
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Missionaries
Subject:
Americans
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Congo.
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback
Series:
Oprah's Book Club (Paperback)
Series Volume:
620
Publication Date:
October 1999
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
560
Dimensions:
8.06x5.38x1.31 in. 1.02 lbs.

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The Poisonwood Bible Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 560 pages HarperCollins Publishers, Incorporated - English 9780060930530 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Compelling, lyrical and utterly believable."
"Synopsis" by , In 1959, Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist, takes his four young daughters, his wife, and his mission to the Belgian Congo — a place, he is sure, where he can save needy souls. But the seeds they plant bloom in tragic ways within this complex culture. Set against one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century — the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium and its devastating consequences — here is New York Times-bestselling author Barbara Kingslover's beautiful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable epic that chronicles the disintegration of family and a nation.
"Synopsis" by , In her first novel since "Pigs in Heaven", Kingsolver offers a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption. An American missionary and his family travel to the Congo in 1959, a time of tremendous political and social upheaval. Web feature.
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