Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Completed: The Poisonwood Bible

Dear Jenny,

I feel like I am the last person on the planet to read this book. It was extremely popular when it first came out (1998) and I feel like I have heard every reader I know talking about it. Now I know why -- cause it was really good.

Took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, it was definitely one of those "I cannot wait to get back to reading this!" books. I won't bore you with a plot summary -- I know you (and everyone else) have already read it. The story was engrossing and what impressed me the most was that it was told with 5 different voices and each one of them was *so* distinct... I could literally open the book at any place and know exactly who was "speaking." That's impressive.

I didn't really know much about the Belgian Congo/Zaire/Republic of Congo, etc. when I picked this book up and, since reading it, I have spent some time learning. Like much of world history, it is interesting but heart-wrenching (perhaps that is why I can't get into history -- I'm too soft. I can't handle the truth!) and this book did a good job of following a difficult time in the history of that place with a personal heart-wrenching tale. The domestic issues of this dysfunctional family played well against the larger national issues going on around them.

I was so happy when the mother finally just bailed on the crazy preacher father, although I was sad that it took the death of their youngest to be the catalyst -- I guess she finally found out what the "last straw" was for her. I really enjoyed all of the different "lenses" of the book -- the shallow oldest sister truly did come across as being totally shallow and dumb from her own perspective (even misusing and misspelling words) and to view her from her sisters' point of views only confirmed that.

For me, the only real misstep in this book was... the end. Which is a rather common issue, right? I wonder what percentage of books really do stick the landing for me. Perhaps I should start making a notation next to books -- StL or not? This one did not.

I was not terribly thrilled with going all the way through with their "future selves" (the injured twin becomes a doctor and manages to heal her life-long physical ailments, the other twin stays in Africa and manages to reunite with her husband after a long jail sentence, the shallow oldest sister runs a hotel in Africa for rich white men and manages to succeed at that endeavor, the mother finds peace growing flowers...) but the nail in the coffin was the "observations" from the dead youngest sister of their lives and her afterlife. After such pitch-perfect narration throughout, this tacked-on ending was a little bit disappointing to me.

However! It's been over a month since I finished this book and I barely remembered that problem with it -- if I hadn't marked the pages to write about on this very blog, I probably would have blocked them out already and been left with the general feeling of: "I enjoyed this book."

And there! Another post done! (Still not sure why I have struggled so much in 2014 to write these posts, but oof... I have many more before I am done.)


PS -- Back on the acacia tree sunset treatment observation -- click that link and notice the last book.  Is that.... The Poisonwood Bible? Indeed it is!


  1. K ,

    I certainly did read this and I really liked it! I'm pretty sure I still have my copy. But...I don't remember all that much. A couple weird things I remember---the mom bring cake mix for them for their birthday cakes, but there aren't any stoves? Maybe just fires? And none of the seeds they planted ever flowered because there weren't bees? I do remember how tortured that whole family dynamic was...but I don't remember the ending *at all*---which, really, who's surprised? Any book that's Before Motherhood is a total fog.

    I'll be curious to find out if those details were in there.

    It's always so funny those books that sweep everyone up, especially when you don't read them until later. But I really like this author!

    You go girl! Checking books off the list. I'm in the middle of my latest book and hope to finish it this weekend.


  2. Re: Cake mixes: She brings them, and she's not sure about the stove situation, but it's moot because the mixes get all hard and unusable before the birthdays roll around (too much humidity, I think -- the moisture got into the boxes and solidified the mix)

    It's pretty heart-wrenching... first, because they had *no* idea what to actually bring with them (because they don't know what they are truly in for) (hint: cake mixes won't help you!) and then because they are all so disappointed not to have the cakes on their birthdays and it really drives home the "We're not in Kansas anymore" point. (The cake mixes were an excellent plot device... heh)

    Re: The seeds -- you got it. They didn't have the same kinds of insects there, so they didn't pollinate the garden. Also, the father starts the garden off flat, and then the housekeeper tries to help him out by making mounds and he goes out and flattens it again, only to have all of the seeds wash away in the first rainstorm. (They salvage the seeds and re-plant them in mounds, but then the pollination problem occurs and the garden never makes it -- just another example of the father feeling like he's got all of the answers for these people and yet he's got zero information on what is actually going on there...)

    Re: Not remembering endings... I think that's pretty common, especially when the ending isn't really that great. I mean, overall, it was a really good book. The ending was kind of weak so... eh. Tune it out (I basically already had already forgotten it myself and would not have remembered it if it weren't for my *notes*!)

    I hadn't really thought about this before, but this book was written (and swept everyone up) in pre-[common]-Internet days. I wonder how the Internet has changed the face of "What everyone is reading" -- and, in general, why it is that certain books become the book "everyone is reading." I feel like it happens some years, but not others. The Poisonwood Bible was certainly an "everyone is reading it" book. Last year, it was The Goldfinch. (This book, IMHO was way better than The Goldfinch). Is there one this year?

  3. That's a good question...there doesn't seem to be a big book this year, at least not in the same way as The Goldfinch. Now that the "Top Books of 2014" are coming out, you'll see more of a funnel forming. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of agreement or popular sentiment for any one book.

    I will also say, the 2015 TOB is going to be rough. I haven't read a lot and I think I'll end up not reading many of the finalists.