Picks and Pans Review: The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver
Book of the week
"Jesus is bängala!" the white evangelical preacher from Georgia thunders at the gathered African villagers he hopes to convert. They look bewildered—and no wonder. The Reverend Nathan Price, who has brought his wife and four daughters along on his misguided mission in 1959, insists on speaking Kikongo, the local language, but mispronounces the word for "precious and dear" and ends up shouting to his uncomprehending listeners that Jesus is a poisonwood tree.
There is more at stake than linguistic confusion in this beautifully written new novel by Barbara Kingsolver, whose 1988 work The Bean Trees sold more than 1 million copies. At Poisonwood's center is the evil that can flourish when arrogance is cloaked in righteousness. When Price's daughter Leah defies both custom and her father by joining the village men on a hunt, she begets a curse destined to affect her entire family. Kingsolver's tale of domestic tragedy is more than just a well-told yarn, however. Played out against the bloody backdrop of political struggles in Congo that continue to this day, it is also particularly timely. (HarperFlamingo, $26)
Bottom Line: A profoundly affecting story of Africa's mysterious ways—and God's
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