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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead (2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

Series: Gilead (1)

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7,761293434 (3.9)1 / 886

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English (282)  Spanish (2)  Danish (2)  Japanese (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Piratical (1)  All (291)
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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 |
"an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart." ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
A sympathetic exploration of old age, Calvinism, love, and human frailty. ( )
  TheoClarke | Feb 2, 2017 |
Written in the form of a letter/reminiscence from an elderly father to his young son, Gilead is a lovely, lyrical ode to faith, family, and grace. That word, grace – I may never think about it in quite the same way again. For what elderly preacher John Ames may lack in sophistication he make up for in what I can only call grace: he is naïve and yet worldly (despite his limited life experience, he has no misapprehensions about the complexities of the human soul), simple and yet learned (there are constant references to literature, philosophy, and the works of great theologians), skeptical and yet intensely devout (while he constantly wrestles with the paradoxes of Christianity, his basic faith never falters). His own struggles to comprehend the nature of love, the limits of spirituality, the tribulations of forgiveness, and the nature of personal fulfilment are our own struggles – except that Robinson’s language achieves a lyricism few of us can hope to attain.

There’s not much here deserving of the word “plot.” Oh, there’s some background information about Ames’ grandfather, a fiery abolitionist who rode with John Brown, and the history of the abolitionist movement in Kansas. There’s a bit about James’ father, who spends his life struggling to reconcile his own interpretation of faith with his father’s “fire and brimstone” orthodoxy. There’s the story of how, long after having given up any hope of love, John “saves” a simple young woman seeking redemption and is, in return, saved by her. There’s the rather heart-wrenching portrayal of the gradual diminishment of a once-proud frontier town and a simpler way of life (listening to baseball on the radio, sitting out on the porch on a balmy night). And there’s the slowly unfolding tale of John Ames Boughton, our narrator’s namesake, a prodigal son returned to his hometown for motives that remain a mystery until the end of the tale.

But mostly this is about the nobility of struggle – particularly the eternal struggle between fathers and sons – and the salvation afforded by unconditional love in all its forms: spiritual, romantic, brotherly. All recounted in a memorably engaging narrative voice that even seasoned readers won’t soon forget. Admit this isn't my usual cup of tea, but am glad that I (for once) trusted the many critics who heaped praise upon Gilead. This one deserves all the awards it won. ( )
  Dorritt | Jan 15, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 282 (next | show all)
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."
''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.
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.
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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)

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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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