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The Poisonwood Bible by 'Barbara Kingsolver' - A Review

Updated on October 25, 2018

The poisonwood bible is a thick book which offers little story. Nathan price is an American priest which decides to go to Congo with family to preach the gospels of the bible and convert Congolese to Christians. In fact the writer, Barbra kingsolver spent her childhood in Congo when she was a child, but the book is not autobiographical. The family consists of Orleanna Price—the wife of Nathan—and their four children, who are all girls. The novel is narrated by the five women taking turns. The eldest girl Rachel who is fifteen and beautiful does not like to go along with her family because she does not want to lose her teenage years in a far-flung third world country infested with disease and poverty. Leah and Ada are indifferent towards this adventure; they are twins and 14 years old. Adah is mute and crippled. The youngest one Ruth May is excited for this journey; she is just five years old.

Nathan is a strict, stern, and steadfast person; he is the master of family indeed. He is a devout Christian and has dedicated his life in the service of the lord jesus Christ. He can go to any length to spread the name of Jesus and convince the people of other faiths to relinquish their faith and accept the auspices of the true lord jesus Christ. Nathan is confident that his culture and his faith is supreme and he is helping others by converting to Christianity and abdicate their culture and pagan worship. He expects his wife and children to live according to the ways described in the gospels; if someone wavers, she is scolded and punished.


Upon reaching Kilinga (a village in congo) Nathan and his imported culture gets the first blow when he plnts a vegetable garden which initially looks lush and green but bears no fruit; there are no African pollinators for his American plants. The next blow comes when the care taker mama tatamba leaves the family and her job because she is enraged at Nathan’s insistence to do baptism of children by dunking them in the river; she is enraged because the river is infested with crocodiles and not long ago a child was killed by a crocodile. But Nathan refuses to stop baptism of children. A local teacher Anatole tells Nathan that the chief Tata Ndu is angry about this proselytizing business. Nathan becomes livid after hearing this and throws Anatole out of his house.

Congo finds itself under a political turmoil when the Belgians announce that they will leave Congo and grant independence to it. People warn Prices to leave Congo as there will be ethnic cleansing of the white people once Congo is free. But Nathan won’t budge!

Leah is falling in love with Anatole. On the other hand the chief Tata Ndu had a bad eye on the beautiful Rachel and sends a marriage proposal. Tata Ndu is misinformed deliberately that Rachel is already engaged to Eeben Axelroot.

Time passes with torpor when suddenly a very unfortunate even occurs: Little Ruth May is bitten to death by a Green Mamaba snake. This works as the eye opener of Orleanna and the three girls. They had come to change Congo but the wild Congo does not change, instead it stings the Price family ferociously. But Nathan Price still not wavers, he is bent on changing the wild Congo but does not hesitate an iota when the wild stings back.

The price women are not ready to suffer any more and decides to leave Congo. The family disperses as a result of the political and social imbroglio. They had come to change the Congo and in this process Congo besieges them with its own wilderness.

I am not going to unfold the whole plot here and become the plot spoiler.

The novel is an indictment of the western society’s arrogance and its blind belief that it can make the whole world leave their subhuman societies and accept the life style and religion of the west. It underestimates the pagan values and fails to see that paganism has its own complicated gods and values and it belies deep within the people; it is not simple to uproot it and supplant with the western religiousness. The price family had gone to do this difficult task of changing the Congo but in the end finds itself at the receiving end. The price family becomes a victim of its own over-confidence. It would be wrong to put a finger at the whole price family. Nathan Price is the personification of the western ideology and its intransigence. Nathan is like the political front of the west and his women are the common person of the west who are burdened with the guilt.

Although the story is about personification of the western ideology in Nathan, he never narrates the story. The story is narrated by orleanna and her four daughters. Obviously Ruth May narrates only till she dies. Rachel is the personification of the flamboyant USA. She never liked to be in congo and was reluctant to leave USA and the glitz of its cities.It is evident in one of her monologues "I always wanted to be the belle of the ball, but, jeepers, is this ever the wrong ball".

The poisonwood Bible was included in the Oprah’s book club. It was published in 1998 and became a bestseller. The book was a finalist in the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1999. It is one of those few books which earn critical acclaim and also do well commercially.


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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Interesting article on religious fanaticism and ethnocentrism. Most if not all religions share common characteristics:

      We are an eternal soul,

      The Golden Rule,

      There is some form of God beyond our understanding,

      Human should not harm Human.

      If the protagonist would teach these principles he would have been all right.


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