I’ve just finished reading “The Poisonwood Bible”, and am listening to the quietness of our house now. It’s a strange feeling, coming back to the here and now after being totally immersed in a novel of the Congo that spanned thirty years, starting in 1959. A family of six goes to the Belgian Congo because the father (Nathan Price) wants to convert the heathens there. Much of the book includes vivid detail of the family’s new home.
Nathan was the one character that I despised from beginning to end. Although the whole premise of the book hung on his decision to drag his family to the other side of the world, he actually appears in the story the least of all the family members (which was fine with me). I found his superior attitude and legalism sickening.
Oleanna, the mother, is a product of her era. Good Christian women back then were taught to simply submit to whatever their husbands told them to do. Never voice an objection, never disobey, and never have a divergent opinion. So she dutifully follows him to a harsh life on the African continent.
Their four daughters struggle to adjust to their new life. Sixteen-year-old Rachel can’t believe she’s spending her prime years without make-up, fashionable clothes and her girlfriends, and constantly begs to go home. Fifteen-year-old Adah is viewed as an oddity by the village people, as she walks crookedly and is mute. Her twin, Leah, does the best of all the sisters at fitting in, interacting with the neighbors and forming friendships. Their much-younger sister, Ruth May, is fascinated with the plant and animal life of their new home. Each person in the family reacts to Africa in a different way. But after living in the village of Kilanga for several years, there is no returning to their previous normal lives as Americans.
Although the story is fictional, the author did indeed live in the Belgian Congo (re-named Zaire) as a child for a time, and she drew on her memories in the writing of this novel. She did a magnificent job of transporting readers into the world of the Congo. This is definitely a modern classic.