Last month's book selection was The Poisonwood Bible. If you read along, I hope you enjoyed it! If you read it with friends, here are a few discussion questions from the publisher to discuss over cocktails or coffee.
1. What are the implications of the novel's title phrase, The Poisonwood Bible, particularly in connection with the main characters' lives and the novel's main themes? How important are the circumstances in which the phrase comes into being?
2. Why do you suppose that Reverend Nathan Price is not given a voice of his own? Do we learn from his wife and daughters enough information to formulate an adequate explanation for his beliefs and behavior? Does such an explanation matter?
3. How does Kingsolver present the double themes of captivity and freedom and of love and betrayal? What kinds of captivity and freedom does she explore? What kinds of love and betrayal? What are the causes and consequences of each kind of captivity, freedom, love, and betrayal?
4. At Bikoki Station, in 1965, Leah reflects, "I still know what justice is." Does she? What concept of justice does each member of the Price family and other characters (Anatole, for example) hold? Do you have a sense, by the novel's end, that any true justice has occurred?
Rather than delving into my answers to the discussion questions, I thought I would give my overall impressions this month.
I really got wrapped up in the story. The imagery was great but the really special part for me was how intimately we got to know Orleanna and each of her daughters based on the wide ranging points of view of their time in Africa. We also get a pretty solid view of the almost tyrannical Nathan Price. The highlights for me by character were:
Orleanna: I liked her transition from passive to Mama Bear as time went on. I appreciated her change in demeanor as she got more irritated with Nathan. I love that she shrouded Ruth May and had a wake of sorts after she died. During the wake, she gave away everything in what seemed to be an apology for all the things evangelists before them took from the land while people suffered. I also love that she walked away from the death of her child and into freedom from Nathan's oppression without a backward glance. I found her life back in America interesting in its solitude.
Rachel: Rachel annoyed me the most. For me, she was the poster child for people hating what they don't understand. Her determination for a good life centered around materialism and what people thought of her. She didn't care who she had to marry or sleep with to get high up on the social ladder. The truth is she was delusional in her desperate attempt to distance herself from the events that happened in the Congo. In the end, I did have a bit of sympathy for her too, however. She went through a horrible experience and dealt with it in the best way she knew how--escape to a completely antithetical lifestyle. In the end, I felt her book rounded out the story. Everyone can't be as adaptable as Leah...I'd venture to say most people can't.
Leah: In the beginning of the book, I felt sorry for Leah. She was so determined to please her father and he looked at her just like everyone else--as things to be controlled. When she finally got fed up and found her independence, I was her biggest cheerleader. The hunt was a great example of that. I loved her fight to be seen as an equal and I loved the way Nelson and Anatole fought for her to have the right to participate. I didn't expect the twist of her staying in Africa and marrying Anatole but their love story was also one of my favorite parts of the book. I like that she was determined to immerse herself in the culture and in the political fight that eventually sent Anatole to prison. She became a great mom and I thoroughly loved her story.
Adah: Adah had a place in my heart from the start of the book with her secret poems and anagrams. I liked that she was the most observant and a genius but couldn't speak. I also loved the way her story came full circle through her medical career and the resulting end of her disability. The most heartbreaking part of Adah's story was the killer ant attack. First, I was horrified by the fact that the ants swarm and eat everything in their path. Nightmare inducing but the real story was in Adah getting left behind. More heartbreaking was the fact that she understood why. I was so happy when she made peace with that moment and moved into a life she was content with.
Ruth May: Obviously Ruth May's death stands out as a turning point in the book. There was something beautiful about the way it bought Orleanna and the other girls into fight and flight mode. It was the push they needed to escape Nathan and the dangerous political climate. Before that happened though, I liked that Ruth May was so open to making friends. She was the innocence in the book. When she was close to death (from not taking her malaria pills), I liked that she was so receptive to Nelson's guidance to imagine a place of peace when she is in pain or dying so she can leave her pain and be there instead.
Outside of the main characters, so much was added to the story through Anatole's goodness, Nelson's kindness and Nathan's almost psychotic obsession with baptism and conversion. Even the neighbors who looked out for the Price family despite barely having anything spoke to the true spirit of the people in Kikongo. The Poisonwood Bible took me away and sent me on an emotional adventure. I loved every moment of the book and am glad I dug back in my book list to find an older selection that I'd always wanted to read.