December 2, 2014

Dec 2

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver


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SOLD: $4,500

First edition, signed. Kingsolver’s tale of the Price family’s three-decade transit through the political violence (home grown and imported) of Congo/Zaire, emerged from her reading of Jonathan Kwitny’s book, Endless Enemies. She tells us in her annotations that she “read this in ’85 – spent more than a decade writing my response, i.e., this novel. I’m sad Kwitny died before I could meet him.” The novel’s very first sentence: “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened,” prompts her to write: “The first sentence of a novel should make a promise that the book will keep. The ruin that Europe and the U.S. brought on the Congo. The difficulty of inheriting this history—as captive witnesses to our nation’s past. The impossible search for redemption. The temptation of denial.” The extensive annotations she has supplied give us deep insight into the sources and experiences that shaped her characters and ideas. “I had almost no familiarity with the Bible before researching this book,” she says, “but read it every day while writing…What an education I received.” When she has Rachel say, “Here comes Moses tromping down off of Mount Syanide with ten fresh ways to wreck your life,” Kingsolver tells us it’s her “favorite Rachel line.” Equally rewarding as her Bible reading was her research into “the voice of teenage materialism. I studied Life and Look Magazines from 1955-58. The outlook of the times astonished me. Advertising copy was a gold mine.” Much of the “theology” in the book “came from conversations with two young men in Benin I met while doing research there.” She “lucked into attending a pan-African” festival and “the dances, ceremonies and market were incredibly rich and evocative.” Clearly her favorite character is Adah—a fellow biologist. Alongside the line where Adah admits to admiring the microbes she studies—“That is the secret to my success”—Kingsolver writes: “I love Adah” (p.530).

KINGSOLVER, Barbara (b.1955). The Poisonwood Bible. New York: Harper Flamingo, 1998. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust jacket.



© Adrian Lourie

Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955 and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have been adopted into the core literature curriculum in high schools and colleges throughout the nation. She was named one the most important writers of the twentieth century by Writers Digest. In 2000, she received the National Humanities Medal, America’s highest honor for service through the arts. The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and Britain’s prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, and won the national book award of South Africa before being named an Oprah Book Club selection. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won numerous prizes, including the James Beard Award. The Lacuna won the Orange Prize in 2010. In 2011, Kingsolver was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work. Kingsolver has also established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the United States’ largest prize for an unpublished first novel. The prize has now become the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.