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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead (2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

Series: Gilead (1)

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7,581283451 (3.9)1 / 864

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English (273)  Spanish (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Japanese (1)  Piratical (1)  German (1)  All (281)
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John Ames is dying, and he will leave behind his younger wife and small son. He takes to writing his remembrances for his son, so that the boy will have some way of knowing the father he likely will not remember. The novel is those remembrances, and it forms a long meditation on John's life, his loves, his family, and his religion.

I enjoyed this a lot, and feel that in order to grasp it fully, I really ought to read it a second time. But even on only one read it is clear that Robinson has written something special here. Many passages struck me as quite lovely and as getting at some nugget of truth. The whole thing was slow going, and mostly I didn't mind that, but perhaps I didn't love the novel quite enough not to be sometimes impatient with it. But altogether a very good read, and it makes me keen to read the two companion novels someday.

***For Book Club ( )
  lycomayflower | Oct 5, 2016 |
A book that can't be read quickly, and one that I suspect will yield greater fruit if read more than once. ( )
  Luke_Brown | Sep 10, 2016 |
Story of old minister with new wife Lila, in form of letter to his young son ( )
  JanetRodgers | Sep 8, 2016 |
There are few people I would recommend this book for and unfortunately I don't know who that would be in my circle of co-readers. For the rest it would bore them.

Barely any action.
Mostly consists of the thoughts of an old man for his young son
Some family drama but nothing special
Moves very slowly

So why did i read it at all
It is poetic spiritual mostly Christian prose
It is deep and caring
It is sooo beautiful in spots
It is the story of the good child who follows in his father's and grandfather's footsteps even though it is not necessary
It is the story of small towns and long friendships

There is so much more.
Abolitionists during the Civil War.
What his friend's middle aged son has done that scares that son and will it destroy his ailing best friend.
And how much the main character loves his wife and child.

  newnoz | Aug 6, 2016 |
Gilead is Robinson's Pulitzer winning depiction of the Reverend John Ames, who, in his mid-70s, has been diagnosed with angina pectoris and expects that he will soon reach the end of his mortal life. Ames, lifelong pastor of a congregationalist church in Gilead, Iowa, has a much younger wife and a young son. Gilead takes the form of his writing to his adult son who will grow up without his father. What emerges is a quiet reflection on life, faith, and forgiveness that reflects Ames' joy in a life lived and his hope for his son's future.

Admittedly, I struggled a bit with Gilead. Had I not been striving to finish it to achieve my sporadic attendance at book group, I likely would have laid it aside. The book, though profound in wisdom and beautifully written, is thoroughly a character study and suffers for the lack of a driving plot. The tangential nature of the old man's thoughts migrates from topic to topic so that when I arrived at a break, it was easy to put down and not so easy to pick back up.

That said, there were several things I appreciated about Gilead. For one, it is a positive portrayal of Christians in fiction without the cheesy bent of books actually labeled Christian fiction. This is, unfortunately, startlingly rare. Gilead is permeated with Ames' joy in the trappings of Christianity. Instead of depicting a man caught up in his own righteousness, Gilead offers a portrait of a man who knows his own weakness and is ever struggling against it. This isn't the judging, hypocritical Christian of stereotype but a realistic picture of both the pain and joy of earthly religion.

Secondly, I was very impressed with Robinson's reverend's thoughts on the Bible and on an assortment of Christian precepts. In his writings, Ames considers the ten commandments, the nature of grace, the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness, and God's providence. Ames is awed by the ordinary miracles of God's creation and feels the significance of preaching and blessing and baptizing God's chosen. Robinson renders his reflection on his life and his hopes for his son's future with tenderness, wisdom, and poetry that make this book linger in the mind after the last page is turned.

Gilead is one of those books that has grown on me since finishing it, and after the book discussion I appreciate it still more. Christians will like this book for its fresh perspective on the things of God and for the familiarity of a Christian life. Non-Christians stand to appreciate a portrait of a "real deal" Christian that makes Christianity a bit more human and accessible without ever dumbing down its significance.

She has watched every moment of your life, almost, and she loves you as God does, to the marrow of your bones. So that is the honoring of the child. You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. ( )
  yourotherleft | Jul 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 273 (next | show all)
A book about the damaged heart of America, it is part vibrant and part timeworn, a slow burn of a read with its "crepuscular" narrator, its repetitions, its careful languidity.
added by melmore | editThe Guardian, Ali Smith (Apr 15, 2005)
It detracts not at all, I hope, from the grave loveliness of Robinson's prose and the lucid profundity of John Ames' reflections, religious and secular, to say that the novel is suffused with emotional suspense that makes a reader's heart say, as the Rev. Ames hears his ailing one thump, "Again, again, again."
added by melmore | editSlate, Ann Hulbert (Dec 6, 2004)
''Gilead'' is a beautiful work -- demanding, grave and lucid -- and is, if anything, more out of time than Robinson's book of essays, suffused as it is with a Protestant bareness that sometimes recalls George Herbert (who is alluded to several times, along with John Donne) and sometimes the American religious spirit that produced Congregationalism and 19th-century Transcendentalism and those bareback religious riders Emerson, Thoreau and Melville.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, James Wood (Nov 28, 2004)
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For John and Ellen Summers, my dear father and mother.
First words
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old.
It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.
But it has all been one day, that first day. Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.
For me, writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering that you're only a little fellow now and when you're a man you might find these letters of no interest. Or they might never reach you for any number of reasons. Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed. That is to say, I pray for you. And there's an intimacy in it. That's the truth.
I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with a story about father and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage in America's heart. In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human conditions and "manages to convey the miracle of existence itself." (0-312-42440-X)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 031242440X, Paperback)

In 1981, Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and became a modern classic. Since then, she has written two pieces of nonfiction: Mother Country and The Death of Adam. With Gilead, we have, at last, another work of fiction. As with The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzards's return, 22 years after The Transit of Venus, it was worth the long wait. Books such as these take time, and thought, and a certain kind of genius. There are no invidious comparisons to be made. Robinson's books are unalike in every way but one: the same incisive thought and careful prose illuminate both.

The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.

The reason for the letter is Ames's failing health. He wants to leave an account of himself for this son who will never really know him. His greatest regret is that he hasn't much to leave them, in worldly terms. "Your mother told you I'm writing your begats, and you seemed very pleased with the idea. Well, then. What should I record for you?" In the course of the narrative, John Ames records himself, inside and out, in a meditative style. Robinson's prose asks the reader to slow down to the pace of an old man in Gilead, Iowa, in 1956. Ames writes of his father and grandfather, estranged over his grandfather's departure for Kansas to march for abolition and his father's lifelong pacifism. The tension between them, their love for each other and their inability to bridge the chasm of their beliefs is a constant source of rumination for John Ames. Fathers and sons.

The other constant in the book is Ames's friendship since childhood with "old Boughton," a Presbyterian minister. Boughton, father of many children, favors his son, named John Ames Boughton, above all others. Ames must constantly monitor his tendency to be envious of Boughton's bounteous family; his first wife died in childbirth and the baby died almost immediately after her. Jack Boughton is a ne'er-do-well, Ames knows it and strives to love him as he knows he should. Jack arrives in Gilead after a long absence, full of charm and mischief, causing Ames to wonder what influence he might have on Ames's young wife and son when Ames dies.

These are the things that Ames tells his son about: his ancestors, the nature of love and friendship, the part that faith and prayer play in every life and an awareness of one's own culpability. There is also reconciliation without resignation, self-awareness without deprecation, abundant good humor, philosophical queries--Jack asks, "'Do you ever wonder why American Christianity seems to wait for the real thinking to be done elsewhere?'"--and an ongoing sense of childlike wonder at the beauty and variety of God's world.

In Marilynne Robinson's hands, there is a balm in Gilead, as the old spiritual tells us. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:42 -0400)

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As the Reverend John Ames approaches the hour of his own death, he writes a letter to his son chronicling three previous generations of his family, a story that stretches back to the Civil War and reveals uncomfortable family secrets.

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