Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.
Anyone who has read one of Barbara Kingsolver's previous novels knows that she is a deeply committed writer who frequently explores the issues of race, family, politics, and the environment. She is not ashamed of being labeled a political writer; having come of age in the sixties, Kingsolver believes that it's only natural to speak out and try to correct social injustice. In a 1992 interview, she explained, "There's only one thing I write about, and that's about finding a balance between individualism and community. That's the great story of life itself."
In her new novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver departs from the familiar southwestern setting of her previous three novels, The Bean Trees (1988), Animal Dreams (1990), and Pigs in Heaven (1993), to explore the tragic unraveling and resurrection of a missionary family in postcolonial Africa. Accompanied by his wife, Orleanna, and four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, Nathan Price, an overzealous Baptist minister from Bethesda, Georgia, tries to bring salvation to the "heathen" of Kilanga, a remote village in the Belgian Congo. Though they think they have brought everything they will need to live comfortably, the jungle, weather, natives, and turbulent political situation of 1950s Congo immediately begin to "conspire" against them.
The Poisonwood Bible is narrated by the Price women, each revealing in turn how her faith in God, America, and people is tested and renewed. None leaves (or stays in) Africa unscathed. Between driver ants, drought, hookworm, hunger, torrential rains, and deadly green mamba snakes, the women experience one hell after another. The excerpt that follows relives one of these nightmares when their entire village is overrun, like a biblical plague, by voracious driver ants. It also captures the unique ways in which Kingsolver differentiates the girls' voices and characters.
The colliding of cultures in The Poisonwood Bible is both comedic and tragic. Leah, the conscience of the novel, says of the Congo: "Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place. Especially here." In her commentary, literature professor Roberta Rubenstein notes how well Kingsolver depicts "in human terms this collision of worldviews, both spiritual and secular." The result is that Africa, rather than the Prices, leaves the more significant mark.