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Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa…
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Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)

by Willa Cather

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,689881,424 (4.04)2 / 624
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    The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (noveltea)
  2. 01
    Lamy of Santa Fe by Paul Horgan (inge87)
    inge87: Biography of the real-life Jean Marie Latour — Archbishop Lamy
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English (86)  Spanish (1)  All languages (87)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Okay … Intellectually I can appreciate Cather’s writing. The last chapter, in particular, is very fine. I love the way she is able to convey a sense of time and place … and she speaks of a landscape that is dear to me.

Now, I know this book was written in 1927, and I know that the setting is in the New Mexico territory from about mid 1850s to 1888, but I just cannot stomach the superior European attitude of this book and its main characters.

The educated are all French Jesuits, Spaniards or the occasional Anglo (Kit Carson). The Native Indian are described as noble, loyal, superstitious but deeply spiritual.

But, the Mexicans? Oh my God. It just gives me a stomach ache. The Mexican priests are slovenly, avaricious, gluttonous, vain, greedy, prideful, barely short of evil. Fathers Lucero and Martinez have robbed their parishioners for years – Lucero amasses several hundred THOUSAND dollars. All this money goes to the church “to say masses for the repose” of the priests’ souls. While the parishioners are left to their poverty and hard scrabbled lives, the church is enriched. Wouldn’t it have been better for the Bishop to still say the masses but give the riches back to those from whom it had been wrested?

The Mexican people, we are told, are like children who need guidance. At one point (p 226) LaTour is described as being less quick to learn Spanish than Valliant. But that’s okay for LaTour “To communicate with peons, he was quite willing to speak like a peon.” Only the Mexican women seem to have any virtues at all … but mostly as faithful housekeepers, and willing to sacrifice what little they have to glorify the Church. (They even do so to help Valliant build his Denver church when his own parishioners won’t give anything.) But I guess this is how the Catholic Church has always operated – the poorest give the most.

So, this book just makes me sick. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

I give the book 2.5*. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 12, 2016 |
Two French clergymen, Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, are asked by the Vatican to travel to New Mexico and take charge of the diocese there after the US annexes the territory. They spend the rest of their lives in this harsh environment ministering to the various Native Americans and Mexicans who live there and establishing the Catholic Church in the west. The chapters are in a sort of loose chronological order (events do jump around a bit, but not that much), so we feel like we’re tapping into the memory of Latour as he reflects back on his life.

This book is a beautiful portrait of the American western landscape before it was altered by civilization. Cather’s descriptions of the physical landscape were one of my favorite parts of the book. It’s also fascinating to think about what the first settlers of the west went through. For example, Bishop Latour is called to Rome several times throughout the book, which kept him away from his diocese for over a year each time because of how long it took to travel halfway around the world. Latour also understands that he is not just working to spread Catholicism to the people who live in the New Mexico territory, he is also working to build a strong foundation (both physical and spiritual) that will establish the Catholic Church for future generations. The characterizations of Latour, who loves the land and the people with all his heart, and Vaillant, who will go to any length to bring the people closer to the God he loves so much, are great and very likeable.

I’ve read two of Cather’s other books, The Professor’s House and My Antonia, and I think this one is my favorite of the three. It’s a great portrait of early life in the American west. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
Unusual. Stories of missionary priests. A hard life travelling around all the time. Wanted to like it more than I did. ( )
  mahallett | Jan 6, 2016 |
With a remarkably assured tone and gentle touch, Cather tells the story of the first Bishopric of New Mexico. Bishop Latour and his devoted vicar Father Vaillant travel southwest from Ohio to take up their new diocese. There travels and travails are many. They are threatened by murderers, sandstorms, snowstorms, and the arid desert. But they also find friendship and devout catholics in need of shepherding. These two men of very different temperament complement each other. Where the bishop is wise in the ways of men and the world, his companion knows the heart of the poor and the native inhabitants of these lands. Together they bring restoration to the church in this area and rebuild it on a solid edifice of hard work and faith. Their end, when it comes, as it does to all, is as a pleasant rain in mid-summer — as something earned if not overtly desired.

Cather’s style here is remarkable. In an after note drawn from a letter to the editor of The Commonweal, she notes that she had, “all my life wanted to do something in the style of legend, which is absolutely the reverse of dramatic treatment.” And indeed she has managed just that. The episodic vignettes that make up the novel are none of them working toward some larger dramatic end. Rather they function as provocateurs of a particular mood, which might as well be called reverence. It feels both ancient and at the same time intensely modern. And it fully justifies her reputation.

Very highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 9, 2015 |
Cather's novel evokes New Mexico's landscape with great skill. The story of the archbishop's years after he arrives in New Mexico is suffused with quiet drama. The novel is a remarkable piece of art. The only downside, from my perspective, is that Cather portrays most Hispanic people in a negative way.
  GeraldWMcFarland | Sep 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Each event in this book is concrete, yet symbolic, and opens into living myth. The reader is invited to contemplate the question: What is a life well lived? This question is asked in a story so fine it brings the old words “wisdom” and “beauty” to life again.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.
Quotations
But in reality the Bishop was not there at all [on his sickbed, in his wandering imagination]; he was standing in a tip-tilted green field among his native mountains, and he was trying to give consolation to a young man who was being torn in two before his eyes by the desire to go and the necessity to stay. He was trying to forge a new Will in that devout and exhausted priest; and the time was short, for the diligence for Paris was already rumbling down the mountain gorge.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
One summer evening in the year of 1848 three Cardinals and a missionary, dining in a villa near Rome, decide the fate of a simple parish priest, the Frenchman Jean Marie Latour. He is to go to New Mexico to win for Catholicism the South-West of America, a country where the Faith has slumbered for centuries. There, together with his old friend Father Vaillant, Latour makes his home. To the carnelian hills and ochre-yellow deserts of this almost pagan land he brings the refined traditions of French culture and Christian belief. Slowly, gently he reforms and revivifies, after forty years of love and service achieving a final reconciliation between his faith and the sensual peasant people of New Mexico: a harmony embodied in the realisation of his most cherished dream - a Romanesque cathedral, carved from the Mexican rock, gold as sunlight.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679728899, Paperback)

Willa Cather's best known novel; a narrative that recounts a life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:41 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The story of a French priest who goes to New Mexico and with another priest win the southwest for the Catholic Church. After forty years, he dies--the archbishop of Santa Fe.

» see all 5 descriptions

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