Sunday, July 04, 2010

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

If you're reading this blog, chances are you have intentions to do good in the world. But do you ever take a step back to question your intentions? The Poisonwood Bible is a fascinating read that can help you do just that.

Barbara Kingsolver's novel is set in the Congo, where Reverend Nathan Price relocates his family with the intention to save souls. Each chapter is written from the perspective of Nathan's wife or one of his four daughters. From their narratives, it is clear that some of the girls look at the Reverend with awe, some with disgust, with some conflicted between the two. At least that's how it was in the beginning...

Over time, it becomes obvious that Reverend Price has his priorities confused. His family members imply that Nathan believes he is doing the Lord's will in the Congo. However, the actions that they document demonstrate a stubborn pride on Nathan's part, paired with an ignorant certainty that everything he does and says is right. He rules over his family as an unloving tyrant, and he preaches hellfire and damnation to the community with an attitude devoid of patience, mercy, or grace. Unsurprisingly, any goodwill from his family or the community at the beginning of his mission fades to nothing over time. When Mobutu's regime takes over in the Congo, Nathan ignores the counsel of family members and financial supporters to flee the country. Within short order, the country becomes a hell on earth for many inhabitants, not least of all the Prices.

Hopefully few of us can relate closely to Nathan Price. However, we are all imperfect, and despite our once pure intentions we can all lose sight of what we hope to accomplish, instead vainly pursuing the wrong goal. Pride is a particularly dangerous fault, because the more of it we possess, the less likely we are to acknowledge any need for self-reflection or change.

I recommend The Poisonwood Bible for anyone who has ever aspired to make a positive difference in the world.

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