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Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)

by Willa Cather

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,7071151,628 (4.01)2 / 728
In 1851 Bishop Latour and his friend Father Valliant are despatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, Latour spreads his faith the only way he knows - gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Over nearly forty years, they leave converts and enemies, crosses and occasionally ecstasy in their wake. But it takes a death for them to make their mark on the landscape forever . . .… (more)
  1. 00
    The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (noveltea)
  2. 01
    The Professor's House by Willa Cather (shaunie)
    shaunie: If you enjoy Cather's wonderful writing this is just as well written and has a much more enthralling story.
  3. 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 (113)  Spanish (2)  All languages (115)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
It is surprising how easy it is to read this slow, meditative book with its long, long descriptions of landscape and vegetation, even though it has basically no plot and is a series of episodes in the life of two Catholic priests in the 1800s American Southwest, based loosely on an historical character. The landscape itself is a character in the novel, one that reveals itself differently in every passage.

The book wears surprisingly well except perhaps for tinges of disdain for the Protestants, the gold miners, and the Ohioans. A gentle book about solitary people in a cruel world. ( )
  dmturner | Jun 29, 2020 |
Like The Professor's House which I read earlier this year, this book almost seemed to be two distinct books. Most of the book was the story of Father Jean Latour and his friend and fellow priest Joseph Vaillant. They leave France to become missionaries in the New World in the early 19th century, and sometime around 1850 Latour is named Bishop of New Mexico. Readers are treated to lots of southwest history and culture, including clashes among Mexicans, various Native American tribes, Europeans, and Americans. Even Kit Carson plays a major role. And the beautiful southwest landscape is lovingly evoked by Cather's perfect prose. Together and separately, Latour and Vaillant have many "adventures" over the years.

The final two chapters find Latour as an old man. He became Archbishop, but is now retired. Vaillant, before his death, had moved on to the wilds of the Colorado gold rush. This part of the book was what I had been expecting the whole book to be like: an older man looking back on life choices and contemplating death.

I'm finding Cather is not an easy writer to categorize. Sometimes while reading it seems like not much has happened, and then you realize she's created a whole world. What is sometimes missing is a narrative arc, and I sometimes find that there are lots of stories and characters only tenuously connected. Nevertheless, I want to read more by her.

I learned after reading the book that it is based on true characters, and is based on William Howlett's account of the life of Father Macheboeuf. One of the reviews on Amazon described this book as not a story, but a "mural" of a time, place, and the relationship between two very different characters. I agree.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jun 24, 2020 |
My reviews are on librarything, links below


re-read in 2020
https://www.librarything.com/topic/318836#7162141 ( )
  dchaikin | Apr 18, 2020 |

New Mexico has just become part of the United States, and Jean Marie Latour a bishop and Joseph Vaillant, a minister are travelling from Ohio to there to establish a new diocese. Their journey takes a year by boat and then overland, where Latour spends the remainder of his life establishing the Roman Catholic church.

The story tells us how these two French priests find the established Mexican clergy and the native Hopi and Navajo Indians on their travels there, and the frustrations of convincing that the local population that this new religion is the way forward.

The writing in this book is lovely, eloquent, effortless to read and the descriptions of this part of the world were lovely. But I found the characters to be lacking something and they felt a little two dimensional to me. A stronger plot would have been good too. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
I have lived in the red stone surrounded valleys and Ms. Cather's imagery brings me home every time!

I love the relationship between Father Joseph and Bishop Latour. The idea of the same gender having a deep commonality of friendship is lost now a days in the twist of author's making everything sexual. Two young men who grow old doing what God has called them to accomplish. All the while touching so many lives is an example of how all human beings should live. To do what is best for All Men not just those whom are most like you, is what Father Joseph teaches in this gorgeous, gorgeous novel. I know I am better for reading it not only from a reader's perspective but also a writer's. The idea of two French Men revolutionizing Religion in many western states is similar to a lot of westerns but, the craft of the prose: the scenery, story line, POV have changed my thoughts on what is great writing; as a teen would've seen this as just a good religious western, today I see it as a brilliant story of companionship and love of mankind set in native New Mexico.

How is this book not a required reading for an Ap English Class? It tells a simplistic, moving story without the base words most AP books hold in them. ( )
  SandraBrower | Oct 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (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.

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionscalculated
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.
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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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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