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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead (2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

Series: Gilead (1)

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7,841295427 (3.9)1 / 888

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That was a beautiful read. I may just have to find more Pulitzer winners to go through. But I don't know whether I can handle multiple book hangovers. I had no idea what this was about when I picked it up and only did so based on the Pulitzer Prize winner tag on the cover (one of my TBR lists are Pulitzer Prize winning books/authors). What I got was something good and profound, at times simple and stark, at times tender and soft - but wholly thought provoking. I did find Gilead a bit meandering in parts though and a bit difficult to stick to for long periods of time because of the lack of chapter breaks. But it is something I may rightly go back and reread again. I am glad it took me awhile to get through it - part of the experience for me was letting a line here or a thought there slowly sink in. My... but this was a good read... and there are 3 other works by Marilynne Robinson to go through - two more in the Gilead sequence and the other one is a Pulitzer prize finalist! Woot!

Source: Borrowed from the library - bless 'em for having it. ( )
  kephradyx | Jun 20, 2017 |
Gilead is a masterpiece. Such beautiful writing you are fortunate to read perhaps once in 15 years. Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping in 1980, then went without writing another book for another decade before stunning us with the luminous Gilead in 2004. She was slightly faster with her latest book, Home - a sort of sequel to Gilead, which was published last year.

What makes Gilead such a modern classic? Marilynne Robinson doesn't just write, she makes prose seem the noblest desire of man. She touches each word with the brush of a poem, and laces each page with such wisdom that you realize even as you turn the page that you are not just reading but meditating. At the end of his long and eventful life, Reverend John Ames, begins writing a series of letters to his six-year old son. Those letters are meant to be Ames' memories to his son, who he knows will never know his father well. Ames though is not like me, sick of the decay in life, but in love with the grandeur of life:

So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word 'good' so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.

Ames has lived a life of grace, and before he leaves he needs to find it within himself to make room for one who he had scorned earlier in life - Jack, the son of his oldest and dearest friend. How Ames moves through own personal turmoil and reaches grace forms the crux of the novel. It is a novel that is a prayer. It is a novel that isn't a novel at all. It is just a wise prayer on Life from one of the finest prose writers of this generation.

Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning. ( )
1 vote Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
Since its publication, this novel has been steadily recommended to me and I had made several attempts. In fact, I think I have taken this book out of the library more times than any other. I've taken it out of the library, renewed and racked up fines and then returned it, unread. After one more failed attempt (fifty pages farther than previous go's-at-it), I had to return the book to the library one more time. But I had a free audio-book coming my way (via-Audible) and thought I'd give it another try.

My slowness in reading this is not because I couldn't tell it was good. You can pick a page at random and the prose is good, deep and engaging. But I am a slow at reading literature. No shortage of appreciation on my side, fiction just demands more of me. Non-fiction requires only attention to detail and the ability to follow an argument. Fiction means entering the world the author has constructed. It demands your whole being.

You find some books when your ready (or from persistence). While I acknowledge the superiority of the written word, Tim Jerome's narration thoroughly engaged me and I found myself transfixed by the word's of John Ames as he records his last days and remembrances for his son. The themes of the novel: fathers & sons, doubt and faith, forgiveness and blessing washed over me. Because I listened to this book on audio, I hit the denouement of the novel while waiting to pick up my kids and walk them home from school. Tethered to my device I had the awkward sensation of being privately emotive in a public place.

Having made the journey once, I definitely want to read this again. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
A wonderful mystical read that spans generations of fathers and sons and religion and faith and family and perhaps most of all - human frailty.

Marilynne Robinson's book of a elderly father writing letters to his young son captures the poignancy of the human condition, and the struggles of faith, loneliness, family, honor and friendship that all men cope with.

Brilliant, thoughtful, sad and ultimately uplifting. ( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
Very well-written, very rich and subtle and complex; not Christian fiction but not for those who immediately start gnashing their teeth about American Christianity. ( )
  sirk.bronstad | Feb 16, 2017 |
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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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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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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)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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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