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Gileadby Marilynne Robinson
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2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
This is one of the few books I have read that has made me actively slow down my reading pace. Every sentence, every word feels purely distilled into its most emotionally resonant core. Robinson's prose conjures up that curious feeling you get sometimes in the early morning or the twilight gloaming, that wonderful sense of anticipation made so sweetly poignant by its inherent transience. Beautiful and elegiac, one of my all-time favorite novels.
A story about faith, love, history and growing old, this book is poignant and lovely. It is a long letter from a father who thinks he is soon to die, to his seven-year-old son. Robinson's command of language, her deep understanding of humanity, and her own religious study come together in this outstanding novel. It was worth the 20-year wait.
Set in 1956, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is a letter from the elderly Reverend John Ames to his very young son. Ames has lived all of his life in Gilead, Iowa, and the novel delves into the history of the area through the characters of Ames's father and grandfather — also ministers, but deeply divided on ideas such as pacifism, duty, and the abolitionist movement. And eventually, when John Ames Boughton, Ames's namesake and godson, returns to Gilead, he brings up old tensions and sets events in motion that disturb Ames's formerly peaceful last days. Gilead is one of the most beautifully written books of the new century thus far, and Robinson's incredibly insightful grappling with faith, mortality, and what constitutes a meaningful life will resonate with readers across every spectrum.
"[N]early every sentence demands to be savored....There has been much talk lately about a religious divide in this country. Gilead, then, may be the perfect book at the perfect time: a deeply empathetic and complex picture of a religious person that is also gorgeously written, and fascinating." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"There is a balm in Gilead, and I hope many people find it. For a country dazzled by literary and military pyrotechnics, this quiet new novel from Marilynne Robinson couldn't be less compatible with the times — or more essential....There are passages here of such profound, hard-won wisdom and spiritual insight that they make your own life seem richer....Gilead [is] a quiet, deep celebration of life that you must not miss." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
"Gilead is an almost otherworldly book. Its characters are, to a one, good people trying to do right. Obviously a work of enormous integrity, it feels different in kind from the work of writers who produce a book every couple of years, rushing to meet alimony payments, one imagines, or wanting to renovate kitchens. One senses none of the rub of greed informing the writing of the book — but because it lacks the mess of life poking up from the bottom, one is also left without the urgency of fiction." Mona Simpson, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He preached men into the Civil War, then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father — an ardent pacifist — and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.
This is also the tale of another remarkable vision — not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.
Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.
"[A] second novel that, however quiet in tone and however delicate of step, will do no less than...break your heart....[A] novel as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] work of profound beauty and wonder....Millennia of philosophical musings and a century of American history are refracted through the prism of Robinson's exquisite and uplifting novel as she illuminates the heart of a mystic, poet, and humanist." Booklist
"[R]eligious, somewhat essayistic and fiercely calm....Gilead is a beautiful work — demanding, grave and lucid." James Wood, The New York Times Book Review
"So serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it. Gilead possesses the quiet ineluctable perfection of Flaubert's 'A Simple Heart' as well as the moral and emotional complexity of Robert Frost's deepest poetry. There's nothing flashy in these pages, and yet one regularly pauses to reread sentences, sometimes for their beauty, sometimes for their truth....Eventually one realizes that beyond a portrait of the human condition — prey to isolation and loneliness, ever needful of faith and love — Robinson has subtly introduced that great heartbreaking theme of American history, the often divisive, unfulfilled quest for social and racial justice....Immensely moving....[A] triumph of tone and imagination." The Washington Post Book World
"Full of the penetrating intellect and artful prose that made Housekeeping a modern classic....A story that captures the splendors and pitfalls of being alive, viewed through the prism of how soon it all ends. The world could use...more novels this radiant and wise." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"[Gilead is] a poignant, absorbing, lyrically written novel [and] a wonderfully readable bookmoving, compelling, and fascinating in any number of ways....[This is] thoughtful, luminous writing." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut Housekeeping, will find that the long wait has been worth it....Robinson's prose is beautiful, shimmering and precise: the revelations are subtle but never muted when they come, and the careful telling carries the breath of suspense. There is no simple redemption here: despite the meditations on faith, even readers with no religious inclinations will be captivated. Many writers try to capture life's universals of strength, struggle, joy and forgiveness — but Robinson truly succeeds in what is destined to become her second classic." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[This book's] grandeur is grounded in what are essentially religious virtues: humility, awe, and gratitude. Its themes echo the universal claims of faith, family, and fathers and sons. Gilead feels like a classic." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Gilead is chock full of rich, complex language, [and it] plunges into intricate philosophical and spiritual introspections. There's also an intriguing plot turn and characters who harbor beguiling histories. One might also point out that it's the little things — the main character's love of baseball and fried-egg sandwiches, for instance — that ground this deeply reflective yet accessible novel....Gilead is a refuge for readers longing for that increasingly rare work of fiction, one that explores big ideas while telling a good story." San Francisco Chronicle
"From Robinson's pen, these pages flow with the intensity of a prayer, both anguished and assured....The result is a testimony of struggle and faith over three generations that's more intimate and revealing than most parents can articulate in decades....Gilead wanders in that casual way that fellow masters of reflection like Henry David Thoreau or Annie Dillard manage without seeming vagrant....There are passages here of such profound, hard-won wisdom and spiritual insight that they make your own life seem richer....Gilead [is] a quiet, deep celebration of life that you must not miss." The Christian Science Monitor
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.
About the Author
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the modern classic Housekeeping — winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award — and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989) and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
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