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The Poisonwood Bible Audiobook

The Poisonwood Bible

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Publisher's Summary

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil.

This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against history's most dramatic political parables.

The Poisonwood Bible dances between the darkly comic human failings and inspiring poetic justices of our times. In a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption, Barbara Kingsolver has brought forth her most ambitious work ever.

©2004 Barbara Kingsolver; (P)2004 Brilliance Audio

What the Critics Say

"Haunting..A novel of character, a narrative shaped by keen-eyed women." (New York Times Book Review)
"The book's sheer enjoyability is given depth by Kingsolver's insight and compassion for Congo, including its people, and their language and sayings." (Boston Globe)
"Beautifully written....Kingsolver's tale of domestic tragedy is more than just a well-told yarn.. Played out against the bloody backdrop of political struggles in Congo that continue to this day, it is also particularly timely." (People)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Paulette Marinette, WI, United States 09-24-10
    Paulette Marinette, WI, United States 09-24-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Don't Bother: read the book"

    I foolishly ignored all the reviews that said the narrator was horrible. I thought I'd see for myself. BIG mistake. The book is excellent and I highly recommend reading it. I started with the audible recording but soon became utterly disgusted with the narrator who has absolutely no imagination and must be someone's wife or friend owed a favor. But the story is a good one so I got the book and totallly loved it. Don't waste your time with this recording!

    39 of 45 people found this review helpful
  •  
    brett Eureka, US, Canada 03-21-10
    brett Eureka, US, Canada 03-21-10 Member Since 2016
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    "wonderful book poor choice of narrator"

    I would profess that this book is a masterpiece written by a master writer. However, I was deeply disappointed with the narrator. How does this happen ; bad narrators getting these jobs? DO BETTER RESEARCH AND TEST RUNS BEFORE PLACING A CONTRACT BEFORE THESE MISERABLE NARRATORS! PLEASE! This narrator is cold and lacks artistry. She also speeds through lyrical sections of beautiful language that should be fully absorbed and savored. Eventually you get used to this cold and seemingly heartless and artless style, but it continues to intermittently frustrate and annoy. This narrator resembles, to my mind, some kind of stern and mean schoolmaster from the 19th century living to make her students miserable. Generally the narrators of audiobooks are thoughtfully and well chosen, but i am beginning to suspect that certain jobs are given as favors to friends or colleagues, for how else could lousy narrators get these jobs. I do not understand. The Audiobook business is, thankfully, an increasing market. I hope this fact will continue to encourage producers to make better and more conscientious choices when hiring narrators.
    Nonetheless, this book is such a fine work of literature, that I would recommend it in spite of this very unfavorable narrator.

    66 of 77 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kindle Customer Eden, NY, United States 07-17-12
    Kindle Customer Eden, NY, United States 07-17-12

    Retired teacher. Hometown: Eden, NY.

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    "Forgive Me, Africa, in Thy Tender Mercies"


    There is something in THE POISONWOOD BIBLE for everyone. Whether it be a probing examination of Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo, a painfully revealing observation of human relationships, the naked plundering of colonialism's arrogance, the shameful machinations of the "ugly American" in African politics; or conscience and redemption, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE is certain to elevate the reader out of his comfort zone.

    It is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a firebrand evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from Betty Crocker cake mixes to garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

    The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. As history unfolds, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband's part in the Western assault on Africa, a tale incredibly darkened by own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story by turns are her four daughters - the self-centered teenaged Rachel, shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah, and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, will be marked in surprisingly different ways by their father's intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately each must strike her own separate path to salvation.

    Each character enters the Congo (later renamed Zaire) with preconceived expectations. Rev. Nathan Price, assigned to Kilanga mission, is determined to enlighten the savages and to rule his family with strict biblical sanction. Orleanna readies herself to protect them all from whatever perils may come - from jungle, river, or father and his terrible God. Rachel, fifteen, resents being dropped on "this dread dark shore" far from America's fashions and comforts. "God's Kingdom in its pure, unenlightened glory" epitomizes Leah's involvement in her surroundings. Adah, victim of hemiplegia at birth, limps along and maintains silence. And little Ruth May just faints all the time.

    From 1959 through 1998, the Price sisters tell their stories in alternating narratives that reflect their ages as the years pass and the understandings that they achieve. These stories - together with Orleanna's retrospective commentaries - reveal the amazing forty-year saga that the Prices and the Congo share.

    THE POISONWOOD BIBLE gradually reveals its binding themes, chief of which is the cultural arrogance of the West. Nathan serves as the personal embodiment of Western pride, unquestioning in his missionary zeal to overturn the ancient traditions of the Congo and replace them with his own religious beliefs. His "demonstration garden" reveals his stultifying hubris that the Congolese are so backward that they have no idea how to grow their own food. It is the United States government, however, that wields its cultural arrogance most dangerously, feeling entitled to assassinate a foreign nation's president (Patrice Lamumba) and replace him with its own greedy puppet ruler.

    Brother Fowles, who symbolizes the positive side of Christianity, is the first to introduce the theme of pantheism into the book. Orleanna, herself a former nature worshipper, quickly picks up on this idea and adopts it as her own form of spirituality. Given that cultural arrogance is presented as the great sin of the West and traditional forms of Christianity as one of this sin's primary vehicles, it is not surprising to find pantheism being presented as the spiritual antidote.

    Another major theme is how people deal with the burden of guilt. Although the book may be seen as a political allegory, the story it tells focuses on the guilt of five women - for example, their private guilt over the death of a daughter and sister, and their public guilt over the rolled they played in Africa's tragedies. The question is constantly in the foreground: What did our nation do in the Congo, and how should we respond to the fact?

    It is through Adah that we receive the revelation of another inescapable primary theme - the impossibility of absolute and unambiguous justice on a global scale. Most of the women who address the issue insist that a complete routing of injustice from the world is impossible. Adah compels us to most closely examine justice in global terms. Absolute justice, she says - at least the crude sort of justice that Westerners believe in - is impossible. We think, for instance that it is unjust that in Africa young babies die of malnutrition and disease. To correct this injustice, we send over doctors to feed and inoculate them. Yet, she points out, the result of this good deed is simply death of a different sort. Overpopulation leads to food shortage, deforestation, and the extinction of species. We cannot change the balance of the world, eliminating all that we consider sad and wrong.

    While preparing this review, I made a list of quotations that impressed me with their capacity to reveal the depth of character growth in so few words. I have choses to illustrate with five.

    ~~ "Maybe I'll even confess the truth, that I rode in with the horsemen and beheld the apocalypse, but still insist I was only a captive witness. What is the conqueror's wife if not a conquest herself?" This quote appears in Orleanna's opening narrative and immediately introduces us to the dominant theme of the book. She suffers paralyzing guilt over her complicity in the death of one of her daughters, and also the overwhelming guilt she suffers because of the crimes perpetrated by the United States against the natives of the Congo.

    ~~ "The smiling bald man with the grandfather face has another face." When Adah discovers that Dwight Eisenhower, President of the United States, is behind the CIA plot to overthrow the elected government of Congo and assassinate its president, it shows her growing disillusionment with father figures (Nathan, God, and American leaders) that Orleanna and Leah are experiencing. For her, Eisenhower's treachery is not that different from the fact that "Grandfather God" damns children to hell just for being unbaptized.

    ~~ "I felt the breath of God go cold on my skin." Leah utters this as she rows with Anatole across the river and away from the driver ants. Amid the tumult of escape, Leah and Anatole speak of race and injustice, and Leah finally suffers her ultimate crisis of faith. Moments later she replaces her old faith with a new one, murmuring Anatole's name over an over, feeling that "it took the place of prayer." Her love for Anatole becomes her new anchoring force, replacing that of her father and his simplistic view vision of God.

    ~~ "In the world, the caring capacity for humans is limited. History holds all things in balance, including large hopes ad short lives." This is Adah's take on the notion of justice. And rather than despair over this state of affairs, she actually stands in awe of it, finding herself rooted no more passionately for the humans than any other of the major players in the global game of survival.

    ~~ "I am the unmissionary, as Adah would say, beginning every day on my knees asking to be converted." It is Leah expressing her guilt over being born white and American. In contrast to the missionaries, like her father and even her younger self - who sought to make the Africans just like the Westerners, imposing their values on them - Leah wants to assimilate entirely to the African culture around her. Her response is on an active level, to do all she can to minimize injustice. Yet she wants to distance herself as far as possible from those who are responsible for so much of it.

    In conclusion, I would rank this novel among the best of contemporary fiction I have read/heard in many years. It has been an experience of vicarious pleasure for me, and if this very VERY senior citizen lives long enough to go to it once again - to be reopened to its cultural and spiritual conflicts, confusion and revelation, hunger and pleasure, cruelties and kindnesses, suffering and love, all combined with the day-to-day life in African villages to enrich this wondrous tale, then Barbara Kingsolver will have my everlasting gratitude.

    This is a most rewarding book - a whooping good story told with tender majesty. The wisdom that Rachel, Adah, Leah, Ruth May, and Orleanna wrest from their lives is also mine ... and yours.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    FanB14 12-31-12
    FanB14 12-31-12

    Short, Simple, No Spoilers

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    "What's the Hype?"

    Southern Baptist minister from Georgia with wife and four blonde daughters in tow head to the Congo to save souls. Agree with the author's POV and enjoy her detailed, meticulous, unassuming writing style. However, this book felt monotonous, tedious, and banal. I grasp the concept and love the hidden sarcasm, just wish she could have wrapped it up sooner. Faced with 6 more hours to go, I had to stop. Maybe I missed something important at the end, but at this point, would rather move on to more interesting books.

    Not sure why this book always scores so high on lists. Maybe it's the fact someone tells the truth about how sad it is people feel the need to force their beliefs on "uncivilized" people who are perfectly content. Revelation indeed, but work more closely with your editor, Ms. Kingsolver. Also, the southern accent grated and reverberated in my ears.

    29 of 35 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniela NYC 10-22-12
    Daniela NYC 10-22-12 Member Since 2010
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    "The perfect "Listen and Read" experience!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Poisonwood Bible to be better than the print version?

    I hesitated listening to the Poisonwood Bible as an audibook because I enjoy Ms Kingsolver's lyrical prose, and I didn't want to miss that experience. But as it is for most of us these days, I have less time to read than I do to listen. So when Audible introduced the new "listen and read" feature I decided to try it out on this book.

    Wow. This new feature is going to change my life! Not only does it let us experience the best of both worlds - immersing ourselves in the author's writing style, re-reading particularly important or complicated passages, etc, but it also lets us experience the performance of the story, bringing the characters to life via the narration in a way they don't come to life on the page. Plus, we can get through books so much faster! I would listen on my long commute and then kick back in the evening with my Kindle, synced to the exact position where I'd left off in the book, and spend time enjoying the book. It's a truly seamless back and forth experience.

    In this way I got to hear the correct pronunciation of African names and terms I am sure I would have butchered if left to my own devices. But if the audio narration got too complicated (lots of character names, etc.) I could go back and reference the book and get reoriented.

    I disagree with those reviewers who did not like Ms. Robertson's narration. I thought it was spot-on - perfectly capturing the personality of each girl through her unique accent and speaking pattern. Her narration made these characters come to life for me.

    I don't know whether I found the audio or the written version of the book better. It was the combination of the two formats that elevated this book to a new level.


    Any additional comments?

    As for the book itself, I thought it was powerful, informative, compelling, and heartbreaking. I'd say it's Ms. Kingsolver's best book - managing to give a historical account of the Congo while also capturing the heart and soul of the people. The narrative device of telling this story from the perspective of the young girls who must adapt, grow and survive in this foreign and hostile environment is genius.

    Ms. Kingsolver is often criticized for having an agenda in her presentation of facts and of being preachy in her opinions. She does not avoid those characteristics in this book, but the overall story is so well told that it's easy to forgive her.

    If you're looking for a book that will sweep you up and take you to places you've never dreamed of and will teach you things along the way - this is it.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie W. Capell Milwaukee, WI USA 09-27-12
    Julie W. Capell Milwaukee, WI USA 09-27-12 Member Since 2007

    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

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    "A masterful depiction of the effects of imperialis"

    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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hamish United States 09-01-12
    Hamish United States 09-01-12
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    "Most enjoyable"

    I enjoyed this book so much I didn't want it to finish. The story was amazingly in depth and very well researched.
    Telling the story from the different female characters gave you an opportunity to become part of the book by relating to those characters as they grew and changed. You got to understand each character, and also how others saw them. The narator did a great job of differentiating between all the characters and this made it easy to immerse yourself into those individuals.

    I loved it and contemplating listening again and bound the get more out of it second time around

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-18-12
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-18-12 Member Since 2008

    My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.

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    "Great story of being stationed overseas"

    Any American who was stationed overseas in the 50s, 60s, or 70s will find a lot to relate to here. Kingsolver's situation may have been more "rustic" than most, but the culture shock, the unpreparedness, the evolution of the connection with the locals, the unexpected effects on the children, the discovery that the locals are far more capable of running their own lives than the Americans imagined, the forces that keep the family together, and the (often stronger) forces that rip families apart, are all on display here. It doesn't matter if you were military or State Department or Peace Corps or missionaries. Kingsolver writes a fairly honest, balanced account of one family's experience through all of this. For those who weren't stationed overseas, this would be a good way to get an idea of what it was like. All of this is apart from the actual specific story Kingsolver is trying to tell. All I'll say about that is that it is a really well done example of what happens when idealism hits reality.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kim Gunsel Singer Island, FL 02-07-10
    Kim Gunsel Singer Island, FL 02-07-10 Member Since 2014
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    "Outstanding"

    The Poisonwood Bible was my first audiobook download from Audible. What an excellent choice! The narrator truly brings the book to life. The book is an adventure story, as well as a history lesson, & beautifully written. I have recommended this book/audiobook to no less than 50 people since completing it. This book is one of my all time favorites.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jacinta Sydney, NSW, Australia 01-29-10
    Jacinta Sydney, NSW, Australia 01-29-10
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    "very enjoyable"

    I loved this book, it took over every spare bit of my life whilst listening to it. The Congo part was interesting and enticing after Congo i believed it lost some interest and intrigue. I loved the narration,and the personalities portrayed. Plus it was a great learning tool about the Congo and the politics of which I knew nothing about.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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  • Caireen
    Cupar, United Kingdom
    9/13/10
    Overall
    "Great characters and story"

    I loved this book. I was worried it would be depressing or long winded, but thankfully it wasnt. The story is interesting and the characters are great, with great moments of humour. The narrator was particularly good, really bringing the characters to life

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Sally
    Newport, United Kingdom
    8/6/13
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    "Fascinating exploration of family and morality"
    Would you listen to The Poisonwood Bible again? Why?

    I rarely listen to stories more than once but I have now bought this book in print and think it is something I will dip back into in the future.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    All the women brought something to the story and because it was told from various points of view in the form of journal entries it was possible to see the same situation differently. Each of the five main female characters added depth and richness to the story.


    What about Dean Robertson’s performance did you like?

    Robertson's performance was superb, bringing life to the characters as well as humour and warmth. She managed to bring out all their different personalities without resorting to odd accents.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The ending was very moving. The realisation that the Congo had forever changed the lives of these women, for good or ill, and the closing of old wounds as they moved on with their lives. Magical.


    Any additional comments?

    This was such an interesting story, sometimes reming me of Little Women, but much bigger and richer. It really made me think - about religion, about the relationship between men and women, about the things done in Africa in the name of democracy. It's taught me things about the Congo and those war torn parts of central Africa that I never knew before, and has made me question some previously held ideas.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • steven
    4/26/13
    Overall
    "Entertaining, informative and profound"

    It was probably Chinua Achebe’s recent death that prompted me to read this book – many years after everyone else had read it and raved about it. It is rave-worthy. It is a wonderfully evocative story narrated by a mother and her four daughters reluctantly dragged into the pre-revolutionary Congo by a fire-and-brimstone, Southern Baptist father. The mission family experience life in an obscure African village at the most tumultuous time on the continent as the wave of independence sweeps through (or past) them.



    My first encounter with Kingsolver was The Lacuna and I stopped less than halfway through because the story was tedious and the author was also the narrator (audiobook) and she was just dreadful. So it took me a little while to forgive her and try another title.



    This time I was very pleasantly surprised. I expected a very sombre exploration of cultures and religion, and although these exist throughout the book, my first reaction was to laugh out loud. The voices of the narrators bring out their idiosyncrasies, their (sometimes) hilarious perspectives on their lives. The story is strong and simple. They remind me of the Paul White Jungle Doctor stories which my father used to read to us. The tone is identical and the stories are simple, honest and natural.



    But in addition to the quaint retelling of these village events, the deeper issues of competing religious views and the tragic consequences of fanaticism make this a most memorable novel. Very highly recommended.



    The narrator (this time) is exceptionally good and her French is quite acceptable. I won't comment on her Afrikaans pronunciation but that is understandable.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • mandy esseen
    South Wales, UK
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Poisonwood Bible"

    I read this book years ago, and enjoyed it, but having just listened to it via audible, I have picked up on so many more nuances and clever tricks of language that I missed in the dense text of hard copy. Kingsolver is the mistress of words that can mean more than one thing, indeed she creates a character who makes meanings of words that are read backwards! Even the title is a play on the dual meaning of the word the preacher uses for Jesus - in the tribal language of the congolese people he is trying to convert, it means poisonwood - a deadly plant that will kill you. His ignorance, however, is foiled by the understanding of his wife and four daughters, each of whom have their own narrative voice and story. An absolutely compelling story that is at once a celebration of freedom and independence and a tragic exposition of social prejudice and expectation. Not a light read, but certainly one not to be missed!

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Villa Girl
    Birmingham UK
    1/17/17
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    "As good as I hoped"

    I remember seeing this book on the shelves when it first came out years and years ago. I always fancied reading it but something held me back every time. Then it popped up on audible when I was looking to use my monthly credit and I thought I'd give it a go. I have recently listened to 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Go Set a Watchman' (brilliantly read by Cissy Spacek and Reece Witherspoon) so the Southern accent was something that I have found very relaxing and soothing to listen to. The story really captured my imagination and I liked the characters tremendously for their individuality and courage. Historically it was fascinating seeing how the Congo was fought over and 'claimed' by other countries while the Congolese just got on with life as best they could. I think the author does a great job right at the end summing up how the West think they can solve all of the third world country's health problems and then by doing so just create a brand new even bigger problem - overpopulation, and a result of that is starvation, famine and war.

    My only criticism would be the way that we follow the family very closely with only months between sections and then suddenly at the end it jumps any number of years, and does this several times. I think the author could have filled us in on some of the really big events that took place when the girls were adults, that are simply glossed over.

    Aside from that it was a really enjoyable listen and the lives of the family will definitely stay with me for a while yet.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Dougie
    1/14/17
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    "Exceptional!"

    30 year's of maturity and wisdom has created a Bible in itself. This fictional work of art cannot be appreciated unless you in full listening mode as every sentence requires absorption and reflection. I will revisit this book several times more if only to gain some of the wisdom shown by the Author.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Sarah B.
    11/30/16
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    "Stunning. Fun, moving and thought provoking."

    What a wonderful book. Evocative and insightful. Beautifully narrated into the bargain. Five stars all round.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    ilford, United Kingdom
    11/14/16
    Overall
    Performance
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    "Chillingly Enthralling"

    I chose.this book for its peculiar title and felt the need to listen intently. The history of the Congo interests me. The church and its vision once held me. Barbara Kingsolver weaves a story of many parts and she tells it with such visceral aplomb.

    The poetic nature of this work sings. The portrayal of a people in the Congo is a work of art. This book in my view is chillingly enthralling.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Sigrin
    Valdisere, France
    11/13/16
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    "Horrific narration"


    Please listen to the sample before purchasing. The narrator is so awful.,the American scent is twangy and read with not the slightest intonation.

    The plot looks fabulous but had to be returned. My ears were crying after an hour of this!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs. S. Mccarra
    Scotland
    11/9/16
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    "The narrator can ruin a good story"

    Having read Barbara Kingsolver previously and really enjoyed it I was looking forward to this. It seemed a tale I could learn from as well as enjoy. I cannot get past the narrator who is reading this as if her train is due any minute. She is reading this so fast that the level of concentration needed to follow her means that you cannot go about your tasks while listening which is what i like to do. It is such hard work that there is no pleasure in it. I may get The Poison Wood Bible on Kindle but it's going back to Audible.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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Your report has been received. It will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.