The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

– Part I –

“So much depends on a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water standing beside the white chickens.”

When I saw that poem-sentence on the page a few days ago, I was immediately transported back in time – somehow it felt like seeing an old friend after a long absence, or a photograph you have taken but hadn’t looked at in years. Familiar.

William C. Williams’ words have a strong echo which carries through time. Was it only a year ago (or two, perhaps) that I sat in the long, narrow classroom, listening to this short poem for the first time, and then to the question that came next:

“What do you think it means?”

There was silence for a while, and he looked at us from his chair behind the teacher’s table, then up at the whiteboard where the poem was written in blue marker ink. His eyes had a twinkle in them, as if daring us to come up with an interesting answer.

“What does it mean?”, I asked myself, and can this really be a poem, it sounds more like a sentence.

Was it summer or spring, that I can’t remember, but then I didn’t pay too much attention to poetry in those days. Thoughts of long dead poets of the 19th century and there we were, trying to make sense of the words they left behind.


The Poisonwood Bible is the story of an adventure. It is about a family who embarks on a journey of a lifetime, making the transition from the comfort of so many things they take for granted in the 1960’s America, to the very heart of darkness, as Conrad so aptly wrote it.

The Price family embarks on a religious mission to Congo – they are the ones who would bring the Lord’s word into the heart of Africa, and make the natives believe Jesus is their savior. Nathan Price is The Reverend – his faith foremost in his heart, obliterating everything else, his wife Orleanna – the fragile link keeping the family together, a bridge between her husband and their children. Adah – the one who doesn’t speak much but oh, if anyone could read her thoughts…. Leah, desperate to please her father and follow into his footsteps, Rachel, the typical teenage girl and Ruth May, the child full on energy. Five lives whose stories are so different and yet lived at the same time and in the same place. Five voices who speak, taking turns, five perspectives. Oddly enough, the reverend doesn’t have a voice and that’s a pity, for he is left aside (in more ways than one) without a chance to redeem himself.

How do you prepare for a journey of such magnitude? What to take with you and what to leave behind? Is faith enough to make it all worthwhile? How far deep down do you need to change in order to “fit” into the new life, and which part of you does it need to irrevocably transform so you can survive?

There are so many questions I find myself asking, with every page I turn, with every day that goes by in the life of this family.

So much depends on…

So much depends…

So much…


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6 Responses to The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

  1. Esa says:

    It is so exciting when reading, and a seemingly trivial detail will cause a domino effect.
    And suddenly things will fall into place. Not only will it clarify some long forgotten tidbit, but the words on the page will standout as if backlit. Giving you a much enhanced experience. I do look forward to the next installment, and where the story takes you.

  2. Delia says:

    It was so strange how that little poem took me back to that day and gave me an idea for a different kind of review, one that is more personal.
    I hope to have Part II up in the next few days.

  3. Pingback: A read-along of Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver | Postcards from Asia

  4. Vishy says:

    Beautiful post, Delia! I loved the first part of your review. I wish you could have written more. It is wonderful how a line from a poem takes us back in time to a different world. Marcel Proust would have loved your review, I think 🙂

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