2002 L.A. Times Book of the Year
Leif Enger's debut novel is a case study in intangibles. Each year, dozens
of novels are published that have all their ducks in a row: in richly
imagined worlds, their well-drawn characters struggle through compelling
conflicts toward revealing conclusions. But very few contain that imperceptible
extra that allows a story to speak directly to the reader's own longings,
to infiltrate their consciousness and alter their perception of the world.
In telling the story of his saintly father, fugitive brother, and precocious
sister, Enger's narrator, an eleven-year-old asthmatic named Reuben Land,
reveals a world in which the tragic is tempered by the miraculous, and
faith leads inexorably to sacrifice and redemption. When it was
first published in 2001, Peace Like a River was immediately championed
by readers across the country and became a surprise bestseller. In 2002,
it was chosen by independent booksellers as the Book Sense Book of the
Year, and remains, today, one of the most popular book club selections
in the country. Martin, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Leif Enger's rhapsodic novel about a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota is a breathtaking celebration of family, faith, and America's pioneering spirit. Through the voice of eleven-year-old Reuben, an asthmatic boy obsessed with cowboy stories, Peace Like a River
tells of the Land family's cross-country search for Reuben's outlaw older brother, who has been controversially charged with murder. Sprinkled with playful and warmhearted nods to biblical tales, classic American novels such as Huckleberry Finn
, the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River
brilliantly incorporates the best elements of all these genres and ultimately earns its own prominent and enduring place on the shelf among them.
Reuben Land was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Reuben struggles with debilitating asthma thenceforth, but he is a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father can overturn the laws of nature. When Reuben's older brother, Davy, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family, the town is divided between those who see him as a hero and those who see him as a cold-blooded murderer. On the morning of the trial, Davy escapes from his cell, and when his family finds out they decide to go forth into the unknown in search of him. With Jeremiah whose faith is the stuff of legend at the helm, the family covers territory far more glorious than even the Badlands, where they search for Davy from their Airstream trailer. By the time the journey is over, they will have traversed boundaries of a different nature entirely. Marked by a soul-expanding sense of place and a love of storytelling, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a romance, and a heartfelt meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.
"You don't see novels like this one very often. Peace Like a River reminds a reader of Kent Haruf's Plainsong or even Norman MacLean's A River Runs Through It. It's got that pure American loss of innocence theme, that belief in and fascination with miracles, that insistence on the goodness of men outside of the law." Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[W]hat allows Peace Like a River to transcend any limitations of belief and genre is its broad, sagacious humanity. Within the context of an adventure-filled tall tale, oddly enough, the book stretches out to gently explore the ancient mysteries of family. Independence and possession, loyalty and treachery, love and loathing they're all here, even if it's not always clear which is which....There is magic here, none more potent than Leif Enger's prose." Dan Cryer, Newsday
"Enger has written one of the year's best novels....Once in a great while, a book comes along that has such wonderful characters and marvelous prose that you read it as much for the pure joy it offers on virtually every page as to find out how it ends....You'll be sorry if you miss it....Go out and get a copy; savor it. This one is special." Tom Walker, The Denver Post
"It's dangerous work, writing about faith....To get it right as Leif Enger does in his novel is nothing short of miraculous....What could be unbelievable becomes extraordinary in Enger's hands....If words can bolster lapsed faith, if a story can sturdy a shaky foundation, then the flow of Enger's amazing new novel may bring more than a few of us to his promised peace." Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
"If ever there was a time for a novel of faith and redemption a quiet book of old-fashioned verities this is it. Written in lyrical, openhearted prose, Peace Like a River even has a comforting, remarkable glimpse into the afterlife." Michael Giltz, New York Post
"It's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale....This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous." Publishers Weekly
"What readers will appreciate first in Enger's marvelous novel is the language. His limpid sentences are composed with the clarity and richness for which poets strive....Enger's profound understanding of human nature stands behind his compelling prose." Booklist (starred review)
"Once you begin Leif Enger's Peace Like A River, you are carried away by the elemental surge of its story, the sheer eagerness to see what happens to the engrossing characters who exist far from the intrusions of the media in the timeless arena of family love and anguish over a lost member. It is Enger's gift that he has made their extraordinary world credible." Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and Dalva
"I'm urging this book on you because it is written in prose tart and crisp as a Minnesota Autumn. Peace Like a River is seductive and chatty and deliciously American and there are passages so wondrous and wise you'll want to claw yourself with pleasure." Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis
Young Reuben Land has little doubt that miracles happen all around us, suspecting that his own father is touched by God. When his older brother flees a controversial murder charge, Reuben, along with his older sister and father, set off on a journey that will take them to the Badlands and through a landscape more extraordinary than they could have anticipated. Enger's novel is at once a heroic quest and a haunting meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.
About the Author
Leif Enger was raised in Osakis, Minnesota, and has worked as a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio since 1984. He lives on a farm in Minnesota with his wife and two sons.