Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible

It's 1959 and evangelical Baptist preacher, Nathan Price decides his calling is taking him to a missionary posting in the Belgian Congo. With his wife and four daughters he sets off to fulfil his ambition to convert the local population to his version of Christianity.

Through the eyes of his wife and daughters we learn of their initial struggles to settle in to a country they know very little about, making rookie errors through their naivety and arrogance. Despite some of the locals trying to help them, Nathan insists on doing things his way with often disastrous results.

The mother and girls are more adept at seeing how the indigenous people have their own beliefs, customs and way of life which is better adapted to the climate and local conditions. Father remains unconvinced and continues to assert his will.

In the background, the Congolese are pressing for independence from colonial rule and the family get caught up in the struggle. As each of the girls grow up, they follow different paths illustrating the schisms in the country and its people as they navigate the road to independence.

With themes of feminism, disability, religious zeal, the role of the missionary, and the historical background of colonial Africa throwing off its patriarchal rulers, this is a book you can read again and again, always finding something different and new.

Despite the heavy topics, it's not a difficult book to read - and there are many humorous moments which lighten the darker times. I particularly remember the descriptions of the family trying to pack for their journey and all the inappropriate things they took with them. Due to baggage limitations they end up wearing multiple layers of clothes on the flight to make sure they can take everything they think they will need. Needless to say, many of their decisions were misguided!

640 pages

Published 2013

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