Kingsolver is a skilled artist at weaving words together into a story with texture and color. I always feel enriched after reading one of her novels. The plot doesn't have to be about romance or mystery or history or fantasy. The story doesn't have to have a happy ending or tie up all the loose ends. It just has to connect with the human experience. Kingsolver knows how to connect.
I couldn't get going with the printed copy of this book, but once I started listening to the audio version, I was instantly hooked. The narrator's reading with the Southern accent made the story come alive and I enjoyed listening to all 15+ hours of Barbara Kingsolver's story of Africa.
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
This is another book for which excellent listener reviews are already available but which I would like to call to the attention of anyone who may have missed them so far. (While I am on the subject, allow me to apologize to Westergren Viveca. The single negative response to her very interesting review came when my finger slipped. I wish Amazon would make it possible to correct such mistakes.)
One caveat. This is not a book which will slip easily into one ear while the other is atuned to traffic or a house full of distractions or the underdrone exigencies of a busy day. It is full of riches which will be missed by the casual listener. Perhaps this explains the problems some people have had with the narration. Dean Robertson brilliantly captures the rhythm, inflection and expressive idiosyncracies Kingsolver has written into these Georgia bred women and differentiates them in wonderful verisimilitude. Their words come alive in the voice of this gifted actor, and since the speaker is clearly named at the beginning of each chapter, no pyrotechnics of pitch or timbre are required to identify them. The result is a very truthful and telling characterization in every instance. Nor would a slower reading have served the text. These women do not speak slowly, savoring the poetry in their mouths. That bit of truth is one of the delights of this book. Just as with any really excellent piece of writing, there may be times when you want to go back. and dig a little deeper into the meaning and beauty. It is worth the time and effort.
That was a pretty long caveat, wasn't it! Sorry. But do consider treating yourself to Barbara Kingsolver's ravishing book sometime when you can really listen with both ears.
The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history
Four women, four voices, four experiences of four decades in the history of Africa. From the first paragraph describing the Congolese jungle, this book slithered out and wrapped itself around me and I didn’t want it to ever let me go. The language is exquisite, the characters riveting and the plot dramatic in the best sense of the word. That Kingsolver also manages to pack in a complex lesson on the history of imperialism on top of all that is simply mind-boggling.
The setting is Africa, but events like those in this book have happened many times all over the world. Unfortunately, citizens of imperialist nations, including the U.S., are privileged to “sail through from cradle to grave with a conscience clean as snow,” as Kingsolver says in the first chapter. Having lived in Chile, I understand far too well what U.S. foreign policy is capable of doing. So I found the story of what happened to the Congo under first Belgian direct rule and then U.S. indirect rule depressingly familiar. Yet it is a story that needs to be heard over and over until the citizens of the “first world” finally hold our own governments accountable for the misery we have caused in the “third world.”
I found this to be a truly masterful depiction of imperialism and its effects on entire nations, as told through the stories of four American women. Dare yourself to read this book with an open mind and you may begin to see that we are all co-conspirators in the fate of our fellow human beings.
For me, this was a powerful novel, evoking memories of my own childhood growing up with two sisters and a mother who was at once somewhat powerless in her own life, and yet strong. This book brought back memories of poverty, idealism, family migration, and history taking place around me---and me oblivious to it. I was only about 10 when Patrice Lumumba was elected, and I remember that, but at 10, alas, hadn't a clue as to what was happening. This book took me back and filled in some gaps for me. I loved it! When I began to listen, I thought, why did I buy a book about a Baptist minister in the 1950's, when my genre is medieval history? But I absolutely loved it and will read it again! Highly recommended!!
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The Poisonwood Bible has been recommended to me several times over the past few years, and I can see why. It's full of heartfelt, lyrical imagery and parable-like insight into the tragedy of imperialism. The story centers on an unyielding Baptist preacher determined to spread his strict interpretation of the gospels in the Belgian Congo circa 1960, accompanied by his wife and four daughters. Each woman or girl has her own piece of the narrative, and shares her own reflections on the events that transpire as the stubborn Nathan Price beats himself against a land, culture, and superstitions that don't fit anyone's expectations, let alone cooperate with his vision of God's will.
The characters do feel intentionally symbolic, but the beautiful writing brings them vividly to life. Orleanna, the put-upon mother, acts as a buffer between her domineering husband and the needs of her children, and feels more and more disconnected from both. The vain eldest daughter, Rachel, plays the ugly American, uninterested in stepping outside her narrow comfort zone (though this, in a way, comes to serve her). Then there are the gifted twins, Leah and Adah. Strong-willed Leah gradually absorbs the Congo under her skin, while the silent, crippled Adah, a savant in arithmetic and the illuminating poetry of backwards phrases, sees truths only an outsider-from-birth can. Finally, there is the youngest daughter, the tomboyish Ruth, whose childish stream of consciousness holds its own insights.
As the story moves forward, tensions build among the Prices, and between the family and the villagers on whom Nathan's ministry is focused. Meanwhile, resentment towards whites in the rest of the country grows, as the Belgian pullout leaves a power vacuum that both nationalists and the CIA have different agendas for (though the politics is largely in the background). And nature offers up its own trials, as it always has. Around the midpoint of the novel, Things Fall Apart, and the six members of the Price family are pulled in different directions, to very different outcomes. Even in breakdown, though, there’s a poetic symmetry that I quite enjoyed, reminding me of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto.
This is, at its heart, a novel about the recognition that we're all caught in our own struggles to survive and the lives of others may be beyond our control. Kingsolver eloquently explores that theme in both the personal and political sense. Could the Western world’s jealous protectionism of capitalism-as-we-know-it actually have stunted Africa's potential? She seems to recognize, through her protagonists, that we don't know how else things might have turned out had we left the continent more to itself, but is unequivocal that it deserved better than being made a pawn to our national interests.
Definitely "message" fiction, but I don't mind that if it’s written with skill, compassion, and intelligence, and such was the case here. To me, the only thing that was too heavy-handed was the device of having Rachel constantly misuse words for ironic effect. Okay, the poor girl’s not that bright, but give her a break.
Audiobook narrator Dean Robinson does a passable job, but I wish she’d done a little more to distinguish the sisters and had had a better grasp of different international accents. Listeners should pay close attention to the chapter headings to keep up with who’s telling each part of the story.
I had a hard time trying to figure out who was who and when they were talking. I almost set this book aside a few times. The narrator can make a marginal book great or a great book marginal. In this case, it was the latter. She read so fast and made no attempt to change dialects for the 4 different daughters that narrated the story, that it made it difficult to follow. Finally, the last 25% of the book made it worth the listen. I am sure it would have been closer to a 5 star read if the narrator was better.
Other reviewers have detailed the story, so I will not, but I want to suggest to all who are considering this audiobook to pass it by and go for the written book. The narrator detracts from this amazing book. She speaks with a minimum of intonation, practically no emotion, certainly no character voices and speaks much too fast.
Although I'm suggesting you consider to go for the written book over the audiobook, how could I possibly give this book less than 5 stars. 10 stars for the literature and 2 stars for the narrator.
I had high hopes for this listen and so far sadly disappointed. The narrator does the author an injustice. The narrator reads way too fast for me to enjoy Kingsolver's beautiful descriptions. The narrator sounds like she has been tasked to speed read through this novel. I am trying to love this novel dispite the narrator. Audible please ask the producer to find another narrator and reproduce this narration. This is the worst narration I have heard.