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Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
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Gilead: A Novel (edition 2006)

by Marilynne Robinson

Series: Gilead (1)

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6,428228600 (3.89)1 / 662
Member:Billhere
Title:Gilead: A Novel
Authors:Marilynne Robinson
Info:Picador (2006), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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English (220)  Spanish (2)  Danish (1)  Japanese (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (225)
Showing 1-5 of 220 (next | show all)
This is a very gentle, introspective, spiritual book written as a letter from an old man to his very young son.
A powerful read requiring concentration and patience but the effort is worth it. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Jul 22, 2014 |
Elegant, eloquent, pastoral, peaceful, lyrical, spiritual.

'And sometimes boring-as-snot. ( )
2 vote Sandydog1 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Gilead. Marilynne Robinson. 2006. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and has appeared on numerous list of religious/spiritual novels, and I expected to like it. I read about 2/3 of it and gave it up. The book is beautifully written and has been described with such words as “Incandescent,” “Lyrical and meditative,” and “astonishing.” However, I never could get involved with the characters. John Ames, a Congregationalist minister is dying. The novel is the “letter” he is writing to his young son. He explains past events to his son, reveals family secrets, and provides advice on religion, marriage, and life in general. It is all that the critics say it is, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading it, but it is not for me. ( )
  judithrs | Jun 19, 2014 |
This novel reminds me--with its beautifully spare prose and the bleak stoicism of its characters--of three books: Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, Willa Cather's My Ántonia, and Martin Amis's House of Meetings. The writing is conversational in tone, which is enormously hard to do, though it looks easy, and beautifully compressed.

Gilead is the story of a Protestant pastor, the Reverent Ames, who, in the midwestern town of Gilead of about 1950 or so, writes to his then seven-year-old son. The pastor is dying and the letter is intended to be read when his son has reached adulthood.

In it the pastor speaks of his grandfather and his father, and the long tradition of Christian ministry in the family, that, the writer assumes, will not continue with the recipient of the document which we, a little guiltily perhaps, hold in our hands. For the sense is very strong here of the reader as interloper, gazing at personal documents not meant for his eyes.

And just as we surely know that what we read can only resolve itself in death and dissolution, and we brace ourselves for that end--we've been given fair warning--yet despite this we find that there is no way to steel ourselves for the conclusion. We know vaguely the shape it may take, and yet it still moves us indescribably. This to my mind is great writing and no merely clever metafictional trickery can ever supplant it.

Christianity is not entirely the point of the story. Though the pastor has been driven by it the whole of his life and it's integral to his concern for family and flock, and the natural world, which he sees as pervaded by spirit at every level. Faith here is the means by which Marilynne Robinson shows us her characters' humanity, the tenuousness of their existence, their lives of suffering and loss, impermanence and fleetingness.

It has been wonderful for this agnostic to see how the old school, middle-American Christianity used to work in a good man. That is to say, how it drives him to ecstasis, to open-heartedness and love and an almost unbearable joy. It's pretty heady stuff. No doubt those so inclined will find the novel a powerful affirmation of faith, which is a fine thing. My point is that it would be a mistake to read it solely as a Christian novel. Masters like Naguib Mahfouz and Isaac Bashevis Singer have produced similarly powerful fictions using far different religious contexts. And Ms. Robinson's excellent work, like theirs, transcends its religiosity to bring us something deeply universal.

V.S Naipaul wrote in one of his books on Islam that the great gift of religious people is their confidence. How lovely, I've always felt, to be able to take solace in such belief. The Reverend Ames never wavers in his faith, but it is only by continual self-questioning that he's able to sustain it. Life is suffering. I have been wrong when I've thought of faith as an opiate. For the thinking person it is as challenging as any other form of mindful living. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

A Spiritual Force

Gilead is a long letter written by Rev. John Ames to his seven-year-old son, whom he begat at a very late age. Rev. Ames believes his death is imminent due to his failing heart so he sets out to write something that his child would read. He does so because he believes that his young son would barely have enough memories of him when he gets older. As Rev. Ames continues to write his letter, the novel becomes a fragmented diary filled with Rev. Ames's memories of his youth, his family, his loved ones, and his feelings for his son.

This is one of the few books that I've reread. The first reading was amazing, and this second pass is even better that it demands a second piece of writing. It's not so much as missing a number of things from the first time as fully appreciating the prose, both in the textual and subliminal levels. This is not to say that I previously misread the whole thing. I firmly believe that it is impossible not to understand the novel because the language is clean, unpretentious, and it drives straight to the heart.

I don't mean to say that this is a purely sentimental novel that romanticizes the last moments that a dying man and his young son have left. Rev. Ames writes about various topics that concern mostly his family and his life in Gilead, Iowa. He has been the pastor of the town for nearly half a century. In novels where characters are religious or where narrators are devoted servers of the Church, there is the danger of turning the novel into a comprehensive Sunday sermon or a plainly pious piece of writing that would alienate the nonbelievers.

That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it either.

Gilead avoids becoming either of the two. Still, there are the passages that will make you heave deep sighs, but there are also moments of small comedy and bits of history. And even if we are reading the words of a pastor, the reader does not hear the tone of supreme authority. Indeed, Rev. Ames is a good, virtuous man, but he is also human. He will have lapses and he will provide us with a sense of intrigue as the novel unfurls to its latter parts.

Good characters do not always come up with boring stories. Rev. Ames has really interesting stories to share despite the lack of physical action. The conflict between his pacifist father and his radical grandfather, the story of his brother who has shirked away from the long line of pastors, his late marriage, his best friend who is also a pastor, and his namesake, his best friend's prodigal son, are some of the big stories that the seven-year-old will be reading as soon as he gets his hands on the letter.

Since this novel resembles a diary, there is also the danger of writing too much about mundane details that might make the reader uninterested. This mundaneness, however, is celebrated even more than holidays. Rev. Ames talks about grace found in the little events of life, about how he loves such moments, and about how he feels more alive in them. The reader must restrain himself from reading too fast because there is so much detail that should not be missed. The words are stripped down to the bare necessities, and it works perfectly because it is these little quiet words that make Gilead such an illuminating book.

This novel was published almost two decades after Robinson's first novel, Housekeeping, which talks about women and which makes Gilead quite a departure from it since it talks about fathers. The two are somewhat similar because there are characters in each that are thrust into the future with their fates still questionable, and they deal so much about our mortal lives.

In these times where there is so much credit given to style and structure, where does one put novels that meander on and on only in calm waters? On what pedestal should novels with great spiritual power be placed? What happens to books that inspire so much interest but are always stuck on the to-read shelves?

Have faith. These books will find their ways to the readers and will make us believe that there are miracles after all. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 220 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:11 -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.

(summary from another edition)

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