The Poisonwood Bible

Book online The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible



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Comment 1:

On one hand, there is nothing new here, and on this same old tirade, I disagree strongly with the author. Examples:* Relativism. I'm sorry, I believe infanticide to be wrong for all cultures, for all times.* Missionaries, particularly protestant missionaries to Africa were entirely the endeavor of egotistic, abusive, colonialists who were merely out to change Africa into either a western society or an exploitative factory for western society. Wrong again, read Tom Hiney's "On the Missionary Trail" for a non-fiction perspective that documents ways in which many missionaries were actually upsetting the colonial balance by preparing native peoples for independence, tutoring leaders on negotiation with world powers, recording native history and cultural practices and transcribing their languages, ; see also Philips Jenkins' "The Next Christendom".* Marriage is an oppressive institution that consumes women; they need to escape. Certainly SOME marriages are, but that doesn't mean we go the way of disregarding it as a foundational institution of society. * America is an evil power of which we should all be ashamed. False again. I cannot deny mistakes have been made in American foreign policy, and certainly events of the Congo, as presented in this book, would appear to be this way. But, there are also many things America has done that are good (such as preserving freedom for those who live here to write books ripping on America), and these shouldn't be ignored.* All cultural traditions should be preserved because they have merit in and of themselves. I do not agree with this at all. Female circumcision should not be, regardless of whether it is a cultural tradition. Not only does it serve no purpose to enhance the lives of either men or women, it is destructive to them. At the same time, the American high-fat, high-sugar diet, while traditional (burgers, fries and shakes) should be changed. American isolationalism that doesn't consider other cultures and peoples should also go too.* The work is hailed as an "examination of personal responsibility". Clearly all Belgians, American, colonialists, businessmen, husbands/fathers, missionaries, and mothers (to a lesser extent) are to be found culpable in the downfall of the Congo, as if this type of situation has never occurred in history before. But the truth is often far more complex, and the events in Congo, while horrible, cannot really be understood outside of their larger context. Was Congo the only African nation to suffer? Was there truly not a single benefit of colonialism? Were all businessmen/ westerners culpable or colluding? Were all involved in the downfall of the Congo Christians? Were not the African leader, Mbuto (funded by the US, yes) and his followers not equally guilty of selling out Africans for personal gain? Were there not some westerners (like the noble parents of the author mentioned in the prelude) trying to make life better for Africans? Is this not the same thing we see currently in Zimbabwe? If we are going to examine evil and exploitation, let's remember that no one person, country, or even time, has a lock on it. And lets not paint extreme pictures of those we chose to reject, while painting those we agree with in glowing terms. As with many fictional accounts, we don't like to admit the good and the bad falls on both sides.*Christianity is merely a tool people use to exploit others and promote their own agenda. I fundamentally disagree with this perspective. Christianity is a relationship with Christ that involves following after Him and becoming more like Him.The extreme situation the author creates in this fictional account allows her to proclaim her philosophies of life with vigor, particularly anti-Christianity and anti-Americanism. In the foreword, she makes effort to point out that her parents (who went to the Congo in the same time period) have NOTHING in common with the main subjects of the work, essentially preparing the reader for the assault upon the southern baptist missionary and his 4 children from Georgia who are the main characters.With such flaws, a work should be easily dismissed. However, there are some glowing strong points. The writing is exceptional, and there are many rich scenes that are not soon forgotten. The understanding of African life, customs, language and landscape as well as the ability to portray this amazingly beautiful land as a living organism were compellingly impressed upon my mind. The character development and interaction of perspectives (each chapter is the perspective of one character, the book being a series of their interwoven stories), is extraordinary; though it is noteworthy that the author doesn't include a single chapter from the perspective of the husband/father/missionary zealot of the family, but only permits him to be defined by the others. I really cared about the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them.The examination of cross-cultural interaction and communication is powerfully illustrated as we begin with a purely American perspective that slowly opens (through the eyes of some, not all, characters) to an African perspective.While it might be a helpful work to those longing to know Africa or understand cross-cultural disconnects, I cannot give it more than two stars because of the blatant agenda referenced above.ADDENDUM: For those really wanting to understand the history of the Congo, including the dark side of it's formation, I recommend "King Leopold's Ghost" by Adam Hochschild. Hochschild's work is well told, enjoyable even to non-historians, and will give an excellent picture of the dynamics (both the good and the evil) at work in the Congo. Looking back, compared to the exceptional "King Leopold's Ghost", Poisonwood Bible was an incredible waste of time - i'm lowering it to one star.Tom Hiney's "On the Missionary Trail" is also excellent in content, though not as well written, for those interested in the lives of ordinary (meaning not generally famous) missionaries around the world.UPDATE:Research quantifying the impact of protestant missionaries around the world. A summary: publication in American Political Science Review, here: I believe this to be the WORST review I have ever written on Goodreads, yet it is the most discussed! I was so annoyed by the material, I didn't want to spend the time to polish my thoughts - I just wanted to be done with it! Yes, now I regret it.

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