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Gilead (2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Gilead (1)

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9,754351546 (3.89)1 / 996
In 1956, as a minister approaches the end of his life, 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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Showing 1-5 of 339 (next | show all)
I loved this book. The narrator’s voice is intimate and meditative. It feels so personal that one forgets that it is a piece of fiction and not a real memoir: an old, dying man writing a letter to his young son with a wise voice, but humane enough in his doubts and small – and big – desires.

It certainly is not a book for someone craving plot and action, but a philosophical meandering on life, death, love, parenthood and many of the other big questionings. Yet it does not feel heavy and self-righteous, as so many books with a truth-seeking line tend to be. It is truly a Christian book, although to label it this way will narrow its scope and maybe scare potential readers. It definitely is not preachy or evangelical. But it is Christian on the fact that the author does draw on the Christian tradition to explore the human experience of grace and the divine. Having said that, it is tremendously broad in its spiritual scope to make it a remarkable reading experience to all readers.


( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Such a quiet book. ( )
  curious_squid | Apr 5, 2021 |
In 1950s Iowa, precisely in the windswept settlement of Gilead, Congregationalist minister John Ames is preparing to meet his Maker. Ames is 76 and his heart has been playing up. He knows that he does not have long to live, and that he will be leaving behind a young wife and a seven year old son, the unexpected blessing of his old age. So he sets out to write a long letter to this boy he will never see growing up. As Ames sifts through his memories, the story of his family (particularly his preacher father and grandfather) and the community which they served starts to take shape. Old pains and preoccupations resurface - particularly those related to the minister's godson and namesake John Ames Boughton. A troublemaker in childhood, youth and well into adulthood, is there the possibility of salvation for Boughton as well? Will God's grace ever touch him?

This is "Gilead" - part diary, part memoir; part testament, part confession. Robinson writes brilliantly - her narrator's style is perfectly pitched and utterly convincing with its continuous scriptural references and discursive theological debates underscored by very human emotions. Some scenes and metaphors - such as the image of John and and his father standing on the desolate grave of John's grandfather against the backdrop of a rising moon - will stick to the mind.

At one point in the novel, Ames mentions [b:The Diary of a Country Priest|63672|The Diary of a Country Priest|Georges Bernanos|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1436634216s/63672.jpg|1174195] by [a:Georges Bernanos|35812|Georges Bernanos|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1245180195p2/35812.jpg]. Although the latter book is written from a Catholic viewpoint (indeed, it is considered a classic "Catholic novel") whilst Gilead reflects a "Calvinist" theology, there are surprising similarities between the two works in their conception (a first-person journal), narrators (troubled "men of the cloth" in a small community) and in their concerns (mercy, grace, sin, redemption). However, I'd say that Robinson is a cannier writer. Although hers is no plot-driven novel, she tightly controls the few narrative threads and introduces gradual revelations in such a way that she grips the interest of the reader. I'd even go as far as saying that she manages to make her novel "entertaining" - and I mean that in a good way. Both are great books - but, to use a musical analogy, it's rather like comparing the organ works of Messiaen with the more immediate pleasures of Copland's "Appalachian Spring".

4.5* rounded up to 5* ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
A difficult book to read- an old preacher's life review. He discusses theology is a very deep manner which is at times, hard to follow. I do think there is some wisdom in there, but it is hard to grasp. It is also an examination of the father-son relationship and it is often sad. I do not know who would really appreciate this book. ( )
  ReluctantTechie | Feb 21, 2021 |
This book is in the form of a letter from a dying old minister to his young son. He wants to use the letter to impart on his son all the things he won't be able to tell him as he grows up, but the letter also ends up taking the form of a diary as he recounts his last months. The narrator, John Ames, is a wonderful character. He has gained a lot of wisdom is his long years, yet he is also full of humility and approaches the world with child-like wonder.

There is a lot to think about in this book. John Ames has some very profound things to say about Christianity, especially about Communion and grace and forgiveness. This is a wonderful book for reading and discussing with other people. It's also one that benefits from re-reading - I intend to read it again in a few years. ( )
  Gwendydd | Feb 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 339 (next | show all)
But in Gilead, Robinson is addressing the plight of serious people with a calm-eyed reminder of the liberal philosophical and religious traditions of a nation whose small towns "were once the bold ramparts meant to shelter peace", citing a tradition of intellectual discursiveness and a historical cycle that shifts from radical to conservative then back to radical again, and presenting, as if from the point of view of time's own blindness, an era when unthinkable things were happening but were themselves about to change unimaginably, for the better. It takes issue with the status quo by being a message, across generations, from a now outdated status quo. "What have I to leave you but the ruins of old courage, and the lore of old gallantry and hope?"
added by melmore | editThe Guardian (UK), Ali Smith (Apr 15, 2005)
 
Gradually, Robinson's novel teaches us how to read it, suggests how we might slow down to walk at its own processional pace, and how we might learn to coddle its many fine details. Nowadays, when so many writers are acclaimed as great stylists, it's hard to make anyone notice when you praise a writer's prose. There is, however, something remarkable about the writing in 'Gilead.' It's not just a matter of writing well, although Robinson demonstrates that talent on every page [...] Robinson's words have a spiritual force that's very rare in contemporary fiction -- what Ames means when he refers to 'grace as a sort of ecstatic fire that takes things down to essentials.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, James Wood (Nov 28, 2004)
 
Marilynne Robinson draws on all of these associations in her new novel, which -- let's say this right now -- is so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it. Gilead possesses the quiet ineluctable perfection of Flaubert's "A Simple Heart" as well as the moral and emotional complexity of Robert Frost's deepest poetry. There's nothing flashy in these pages, and yet one regularly pauses to reread sentences, sometimes for their beauty, sometimes for their truth: "Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts."
 

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robinson, Marilynneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ebnet, Karl-Heinzsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kampmann, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)

In 1956, as a minister approaches the end of his life, 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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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)
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