This is the story of Nathan Price and his family. Nathan is a Baptist minister who has volunteered to be a missionary in the Belgian Congo in 1959. He takes with him his wife, Orleanna and his four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May.
The family prepares for the trip as though they are going on vacation. Not long after their arrival, the Price women realize they aren't prepared at all.
The preacher is not having any success in converting the villagers to Christianity. Because of this, he is blind to the fact that his family is crumbling around him.
As this small family dissolves, so does the structure of the Belgian Congolese government, making it very dangerous for the prices to stay. Nathan Price is so determined by his own ego that he ignores the dangers and keeps his family in the middle of the village fire and political fire.
The story of the family's gradual demise is told through the words of the four daughters. Rachel is the oldest and most beautiful. Her view of the events is the most shallow.
Leah and Adah are twins. Leah is most like her father: stubborn and devout in the teachings of the Bible. Adah is described as a "half-person"." She has only the use of half of her brain, thus only half of her body. Don't be fooled, though. Her perceptions of Congolese life are sharp and interesting.
Ruth May is the youngest at 5 years old. She has the love and innocence of a child, as her story explains.
The Poisonwood Bible is one powerful book. There are so many issues discussed simultaneously:
The view of Baptist women in the 1959 South
The view of women in the 1959 Belgian Congo
The view of blacks in the 1959 South
The view of whites in the 1959 Belgian Congo
The rights of missionaries to spread their beliefs
Is the portrayal of the Southern Baptist minister accurate?
Are the portrayals of Congolese politics accurate?
As you can see by all the elements touched, The Poisonwood Bible makes for interesting reading. How I wish I could have read a book like this in my high school English class. This book has far more pertinent issues than the woes of Hamlet. No offense to William Shakespeare, of course.
I have read so many books in my lifetime. There are only a handful of novels that I can declare "one of the best I have ever read." I am proud to add this book to the list.
Normally, I can't justify that a book is worth the purchase price. Not so with The Poisonwood Bible. Ms. Kingsolver's novel would be an asset to any personal library.