The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

“Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their own precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines stragling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.
Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above, they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you’ll have to decide what sympathy they deserve.”

Alternately profound, beautiful, and terrifying, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a Baptist missionary who brings his wife and four daughters to a village in the Congo in the 1950s so he can convert the heathens. If you’re backing away in apprehension now, don’t worry. The story is told through the changing viewpoints of the wife and the four daughters, none of whom really want to be there. It’s an incredible and eye-opening read, and I especially appreciated how Kingsolver seemed to cover all the lessons and subjects Chinua Achebe tried to in Things Fall Apart, only she does it so, so much better. Yes, I know Achebe’s book is supposed to be the more valid read because he’s a native of the country he’s writing about and not a white imperialist etc etc, but I don’t care. When it comes down to eloquence and storytelling ability, Kingsolver wins by a landslide. Everyone should read this book. They should read Things Fall Apart only if they really feel like it.

Chinua Achebe can suck it. He got beat at his own post-colonial game by a white imperialist American lady writer. Bet that’s gotta sting.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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