The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver This was a very interesting, wildly ambitious, messy read. Either 200 pages too long or 400 pages too short, depending on how much the reader feels the "after Africa" plot elements add or detract from the overall experience. I admire the author's work here, particularly after reading her earlier work, Bean Trees. It's obvious how much work and craft she put into this book. Her prose shows an expanded level of lyricism, particularly in the parts narrated by the character of the mother. At the same time, however, I felt Kingsolver forced the "literary" aspect, as if each sentence had to be its own polished jewel. Thinking about this, I believe it must be very hard for an author to sit in front of a draft for month after month and not give in to the temptation to polish and decorate her thoughts with various adornments. She should have kept in mind George Orwell's five rules for writing. My own preference, like Orwell's, is to simply let the words serve the narrative without a surplus of fuss and confetti. It's particularly painful when some lines feel like they were written in order to be highlighted and quoted, exquisite fruits of wisdom ripe for the Oprah Book Club. Moreover, it would be nice to be offered lessons in political history without so much hostile subtext and bitter commentary being crammed down our throats. It felt, at times, like I was reading a NYT op-ed piece. I think of writers like Graham Greene, who didn't have to spell it all out for us in order for us to get the idea. Because regardless of the political backdrop, in the end, this is a story of six people and their joys, hopes, pains. The skipping ahead of years towards the end diffuses the power of the narrative considerably, which is a shame. All of a sudden, rather than showing us the story in the small moments that made the first half of the book special, Kingsolver resorts to telling us about events. Here she holds the reader's interest only by making frequent references to the characters' past experiences together. Add 400 pages, and you allow that portion of the story to actually become something meaningful to the reader- and perhaps you wind up with Congo by James Michener. Two hundred pages shorter and she wins the Pulitzer.