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“A powerful new epic... [Kingsolver] has with infinitely steady hands worked the prickly threads of religion, politics, race, sin and redemption into a thing of terrible beauty.” - Los Angeles Times Book Review
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Taking its place alongside the classic works of postcolonial literature, this ambitious novel establishes Kingsolver as one of the most thoughtful and daring of modern writers.
"Haunting...A novel of character, a narrative shaped by keen-eyed women." (New York Times Book Review)
"Beautifully written....Kingsolver's tale of domestic tragedy is more than just a well-told yarn.. Played out against the bloody backdrop of political struggles in Congo that continue to this day, it is also particularly timely." (People)
"The book's sheer enjoyability is given depth by Kingsolver's insight and compassion for Congo, including its people, and their language and sayings." (Boston Globe)
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This is an excellent book in many ways and I would recommend it to anyone not just for its story but for the relevance of its politics.It is humane, insightful and finely written, and therefore deserves to be much better narrated. It is read too fast, with little expression and with no attempt to vocally differentiate between the characters, in particular the mother and her 4 daughters, the main characters, all sound like the same person. Sadly, many of the subtleties of the writing, especially in the more moving parts, are spoiled and occasionally lost altogether in the narrator's disregard for punctuation and apparent hurry to get it all over and done with! Good audio book narrators don't just read aloud, they act as well. This narrator just reads it aloud.
30 people found this helpful
A great book ruined by a truly dreadful narrator
I had only managed to read half of The Poisonwood Bible when it came up for my book group, so decided to revisit it in audio format. What a mistake that was.
Dean Robertson, the narrator, races through the sentences so fast it's as if she's been given a completion time she must stick to on pain of death. There's no inflection, no slight pause at the end of a sentence: it's machine-like reading with no regard to punctuation and, worst of all, no differentiation between the various characters. Meaning and detail is lost in the rush. Given that the book is structured as a series of internal first-person monologues involving various different people, the fact that she moves without pause from say, the mother's 'voice' to one of the children's 'voices' and doesn't vary pitch, colour, speed or inflection at all, makes for a very confusing situation. I'm going to return the book half-listened to: I can't bear to hear her murder the text any longer and I'm sick of getting confused because I hadn't realised that it's the mother talking now, rather than the daughter.
I thought maybe I was the one with the problem because I notice a couple of people have posted to say what a superb job Dean Robertson did on the book. So I googled to find out whether she's done other work and I found an interview with her here:
in which she reveals that she was a teacher (no professional voice or acting training I presume) and this was her first 'professional' reading. She says: 'I’m going to describe my process for narrating The Poisonwood Bible, because that was the longest book I narrated and also the first, the finest, and a model for the others. It would still be the model if I did this work again. The work came up fast. They sent me a manuscript, which was dauntingly thick and, unlike my usual meticulous preparation for anything I do, I decided I just didn’t want to read it. So, the narration was my first reading.&quot;
Suddenly everything becomes clear. She picked up the script cold and ran at it. No wonder it's so awful. She didn't think about the different characters and find different voices for them. She didn't honour Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful prose by reading through carefully and looking for ways to create depth and texture. She opened it at page one and set off at pace. No wonder, when she's reading, she's like a machine that doesn't seem to have any idea where a sentence is heading or how one sentence reflects on the previous one.
If I were Barbara Kingsolver I would be horrified to think that the company who were recording my precious text gave the job to a first-time narrator with no dramatic or radio experience and who didn't bother to read the script before she recorded it. This book desperately needs to be rerecorded by someone who will do it justice.
12 people found this helpful
A good story over-burdened with detail
The author has created a wealth of strong characters: the awful, overbearing, self-righteous Baptist missionary Nathan Price; his long-suffering wife and four very different daughters that he drags to the Congo in the late 1950s to satisfy his desire to bring Jesus to the natives. The Congolese he encounters are resourceful and pragmatic and he greatly under-estimates them. It's an epic story of battling against the odds set against the tragic political upheavals caused by US meddling that ruined the country. There is much of interest in the book, but I felt there was too much descriptive detail and attempts to draw moral parallels that slowed down the narrative. The author knows a lot about the Congo having lived there and has obviously done much research, but a good story has become over-burdened with her desire to include too much of this information. There are many characters with unfamiliar-sounding names that made it difficult to keep track of who was whom: a difficulty increased by the colourless and sometimes overly hurried narration in a monotonous voice with no attempt to differentiate among the characters. The book is structured such that we get the story told from the perspective of the mother and four daughters in turn but I kept losing track of who was 'speaking' as the narrator sounded the same all the time. A pity as some audio books are brought to life by a skilled narrator who can change voice as each character speaks.
23 people found this helpful
- Susan Rogers
Any additional comments?
This is a great story told cleverly through different eyes. I really enjoyed it, but the narrator didn't making it clear whose story she was telling because one chapter heading followed as if it were the next sentence without pausing. On numerous occasions I had to re-wind to check whose story I was now hearing. Thankfully it was such a good tale that it transcended the poor narration.
9 people found this helpful
Read this book to get the most out of it!
I did not get as much out of this book as I would have done by reading it. The story, although a little slow at the start, really takes off and is well worth persevering with. However I did not like the reader and thought she made no effort to read each character differently. This book is based upon the way the women characters see life in a Congolese village at the time of the uprising in 1961. The youngest is 5. The reader did not attempt to make the listener understand which character was 'speaking'. i would have got more out of reading it 'in the voice' of each character. Therefore I cannot recommend the audible version - though i do recommend the book.
30 people found this helpful
I listened to this book after hearing Tim Butchers account of his trip down the Congo (Blood River).
It is one of my favourite audio books so far.
The characters are so beautifully drawn, they almost seem real. In fact, at times I found it hard to believe that it was a work of fiction and not based on real events (although the political backdrop is, i believe, based on what really happened and is still happening).
It is, in places, heart wrenchingly sad and there isn't really a totally happy ending, but still I felt satisfied at the end.
Some of the descriptions of people, places and emotions are almost poetic.
It's a lovely, feast of a book...
6 people found this helpful
This is a compelling, multi-layered novel. It tells the story of Nathan Price, a bigoted Baptist minister who takes his wife and four daughters away from the comfort of their American home to the diseased and famine ridden Congo. This move eventually leads to tragedy and to the break-up of the family. Although sad in parts it's not a heavy listen - it's hard to put down as it's written with great humour, particularly the passages relating to the eldest daughter Rachel with all her Malapropisms.
My only criticism is that the author spent far too long expounding her political views in the last quarter of the book. Those views of the ignorance of imperialism speak for themselves through the story. Aside from that, well worth the read, thought provoking and interesting from the historical perspective.
24 people found this helpful
Lyrical and compelling
I enjoyed it. If the narration was a little flat, I wasn't put off by it and the fact that each subsection is preceded by a naming of the character involved helps in following the plot. The character of the four daughters is drawn out carefully, as is their development over time. The Congo and its people are far more than a mere backdrop; they shape the growth of Orleanna and her four girls, whereas the refusal of the father to attempt any sort of integration compromises not only his religious mission but also his family bonds. He fades slowly out of the picture, leaving Orleanna to face all the consequences.
I wasn't convinced by all the characters. I couldn't get into the head of Rachel, the eldest girl, and Nathan, the father, remains a cipher despite his backstory. Adah, on the other hand, is fascinating and her plays with words reflect Kingsolver at her lyrical best.
At times the book feels a little like a treatise on long-suffering motherhood and the second half seems nowhere near as strongly written but, overall, I thought it had real impact.
4 people found this helpful
- Tara Mcgrath
I was really looking forward to listening to this as a number of people had recommended and I had heard some great things on the radio 4 book club. However I was really disappointed, the narrator didn't bring the characters alive at all, she was very one dimensional and her voice was actually pretty annoying. The story was interesting but I'm afraid I totally switched off due to the lack of commitment from the narrator. Just goes to show how important the narrator's job is when creating an audiobook, great books often fall flat if you get the wrong person reading them.
23 people found this helpful
Epic african story
An epic tale of a baptist minister who takes his reluctant family of wife and four girls from Georgia to the congo in 1960. The story is told in the 5 female voices and all are changed by the experience. The book is not narrated as stated by Dean Robertson but ? by the author. All five voices are different, offering alternate perspectives on Africa The family disperses following a death. I found the story gripping but the second half not as satisfactory(a bit of a polemic). However I would strongly recommend this audio - it inspired me to read more of modern African history.
3 people found this helpful
A long time coming...........
My sister, who lives in Africa, gave me the book soon after it was published with the instruction that this was a "must read". In spite of several attempts, I never could get too far before I lost the thread of the character changes and gave up. This summer I decided to "listen and read" at the same time, and suddenly the book came alive to me. It took a couple of hours to get Dean's subtle voice changes for the younger girls - but by the end of the book I didn't need the preface of names to know them as individuals.
I loved it and was sad to reach the end.
The detailed underlying history shocked me, I have been compelled to learn more about Congo and it's still turbulent evolution. The family story, as it details the maturation of supressed little girls into hugely differing independant women, each far greater than their father's expectations, illustrates how one absorbs a comprehension of life from your surroundings and experience that is not necessarily what your teachers intend. My sister was right. Truly a "must read"
183 people found this helpful
When I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Pigs In Heaven" I was transported to a world of ordinary life written in simple words which together conveyed color and the music of language. Once again I was enveloped in language and story while engrossed in The Poisonwood Bible. Ms. Kingsolver's word magic was coupled with perfect accent, intonation and emotion in a genius narration. Read (listen) The Poisonwood Bible not just for the story, which definitely keeps a reader's interest, but for the experience of listening to well-chosen words taking you to the color of mid-century Africa.
62 people found this helpful
- Sharon Murch
I'd give it ten stars if I could
First, everybody is right about the narrator. I actually think she is okay for the voice of the mom, but the book is presented by chapters in the separate voices of the mom and four daughters, and she has a husky, gravelly voice that is just horrible for teen girls and children. And she didn't even attempt to vary the voices. It was impossible sometimes to tell who was speaking unless you caught the chapter intro. I really believe that books that are written from several points of view should have separate narrators for each, and why this was not done here I can't imagine. Was it budget? Did they think because it was an older book they should cut corners?
But I have to tell you that by the middle of the book, I didn't care a whit about the narrator. The story, and the writing, were so absolutely beautiful and amazing that I was captivated. There were several times I actually had to pull over and write down something that I'd heard, and I am now hunting for the print book which I've had for a long time and never found the time to read.
I particularly love the voice of Orleana Price, the mom. I started out thinking she probably wasn't much, a submissive wife of an overbearing Baptist missionary, but she is such a rich, full character, and yet expressed with such undertones of subtlety.
I cannot say enough good about this book. Don't let the narrator put you off. If you don't want to listen to her voice, read the book. If you don't have the time to read it, listen to it and you will NOT be sorry.
109 people found this helpful
I very much enjoyed this audio book. The first three quarters are phenomenal. It begins to feel slightly tedious and repetitive for the last quarter, but that may have had more to do with the fact that I was listening to it for long stretches, and may have felt some fatigue as a result.
I thought the narration was fantastic, and I thought the narrator captured the different characters' personalities in a very skilled and subtle way. I especially enjoyed her versions of Adah and Rachel.
There are things about this book that might work better in print, such as Adah's palindromes and other word play. But I so enjoyed this audio version that I didn't regret for a moment that I wasn't actually reading it.
64 people found this helpful
- Julie W. Capell
A masterful depiction of the effects of imperialis
Four women, four voices, four experiences of four decades in the history of Africa. From the first paragraph describing the Congolese jungle, this book slithered out and wrapped itself around me and I didn’t want it to ever let me go. The language is exquisite, the characters riveting and the plot dramatic in the best sense of the word. That Kingsolver also manages to pack in a complex lesson on the history of imperialism on top of all that is simply mind-boggling.
The setting is Africa, but events like those in this book have happened many times all over the world. Unfortunately, citizens of imperialist nations, including the U.S., are privileged to “sail through from cradle to grave with a conscience clean as snow,” as Kingsolver says in the first chapter. Having lived in Chile, I understand far too well what U.S. foreign policy is capable of doing. So I found the story of what happened to the Congo under first Belgian direct rule and then U.S. indirect rule depressingly familiar. Yet it is a story that needs to be heard over and over until the citizens of the “first world” finally hold our own governments accountable for the misery we have caused in the “third world.”
I found this to be a truly masterful depiction of imperialism and its effects on entire nations, as told through the stories of four American women. Dare yourself to read this book with an open mind and you may begin to see that we are all co-conspirators in the fate of our fellow human beings.
15 people found this helpful
- Westergren Viveka
story of one family takes hold over another
This story, having it told by all the female members of the Price family, is so engaging that my 16 y o son had to talk about it, analyzing it, spontaneously after listening. He has never before made such a vigorous review including politics, history, characters ending with conclusions showing an understanding, on a new level, of our contemporary history having read or listen ed to a novel.
I understand his reaction after enjoying the listen too and we have discussed it further as more family members have listened too. We all (4, mix grown ups and adolescents) share the opinion the this is a well narrated good story where there characters have room to grow and develop.
46 people found this helpful
One of the best !
This is by far one of the most interesting books I have listen to to date.
From the begining I was pulled into the family and into a world in the Congo I had never imagined.
True, at times it was very policital, but that did not detract from the story.
It was also one of the better read book I have heard.
One of the few books I will listen to again.
23 people found this helpful
- Cheryl D
Listen to the sample first!
This of course is a well reviewed book and loved by many. But this wonderful book suffers at the voice of the narrator of the audiobook itself. I suggest anyone who has an interest listen to the sample as the entire book is read just like this. As the listener of 80 plus audiobooks in the past year and a half, I understand what a good narrator means to a book. And the narrator here, who uses a flat almost monotone voice does a great disservice to this powerful book. The writing was great. That said I had to literally force myself to pay attention, keep going and finish because the narrator might as well as have been reading a grocery list. Great book, poor vocal talent choice.
231 people found this helpful
The Best of the Best
Barbara Kingsolver is a great writer, and this is her greatest book yet. She writes with such intelligence, knowledge, and compassion, obviously works hard at research, and - in this book especially - brings her characters and a continent to life. I read the book years ago and was VERY excited to have to chance to listen to it. I remembered the characters, but didn't remember a lot of the story, so I got to appreciate it all over again.
The most amazing aspect of this book is that it's written in five distinct voices. From Rachel's wonderfully mixed metaphors and word confusion (for example, she extols America's practice of single marriage vs. Congo's multiple marriage system and says "we call it monotony!") to Leah's intelligent palindromes and poetry, each voice is unique. Knowing this, I worried that a narrator might try too hard to differentiate them - and I HATE it when narrators do child voices, so it was a risk! This reader did a GREAT job through pace and inflection - subtle, but effective.
44 people found this helpful
Best of both-great story, inspired writing
I'm currently about 1/2 way through my second read, and I rarely read a book twice. The story is told by turns from a missionary wife and her four young daughters, set in the Belgian Congo in the 50's. While it's an "historical novel" set against the backdrop of political unrest in that country, the focus is very much on the story of this missionary family's experience in a poor Congolese village. Kingsolver's characters are beautifully drawn, as always, and the reader captures each one's unique perspective through a careful reading of Kingsolver's wonderfully written prose. I only wish the reader would slow down a little to let us savor some of Kingsolver's gorgeous use of language. One of my favorite books of all time, and that's saying a lot.
16 people found this helpful