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Gilead (2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Gilead (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,132355579 (3.89)1 / 1030
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 342 (next | show all)
Told by a dying man to his young boy (to be read when the son is a grown up), Gilead is essentially a story of fathers and sons. The narrative begins with the dying man (a congregationalist minister named John Ames) explaining what he thinks his adult son would need to know, trying to describe his long life with the gravity of last words. As the book progresses, however, and we learn more about the minister's life and the generations before him, the story becomes much more inward, more like last thoughts than last words. As John Ames struggles with long-held prejudices, in the case of the young Boughton, wishes fulfilled but too late, with his young son, we're slowly made to question the reliability of the old reverend as narrator, but end up arriving at forgiveness exactly when he does; a well constructed device by Robinson.

Emotionally rich but at times plodding, the heartfelt philosophy of meekness, forgiveness, justice, and love come through mightily, if a bit predictably. Robinson's aim is not to shock or amaze, however, it' more to take one last, long look at a life of hard work in a cruel and beautiful world before forever stepping away from it. ( )
  MaryJeanPhillips | Jun 22, 2022 |
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 | Jan 1, 2022 |
Pulitzer Prize
  FUMCMoorestown | Oct 6, 2021 |
A beautiful book. ( )
  misslevel | Sep 22, 2021 |
A book about fathers and sons, including prodigal sons. Sometimes prodigal fathers. John Ames, after many years of widowhood, marries and fathers a son. His heart is failing, the son is only seven, so he resolves to write an account of his life, as well as that of his father and grandfather, that the son can read when he becomes a man. This novel is that account.
Like his father and two grandfathers, Ames is a minister in a small town on the Iowa prairie. He knows no other life. In the course of telling his tale, there is a lot of common sense theology. There is also heartache over his inability to have an honest talk with his godson and namesake, the black sheep son of his lifelong best friend, also a minister. His skill as a pastoral counselor seems to fail him when he needs it most.
Along with that heartache is Ames’s knowledge that he will leave a widow and young son unprovided for. At the same time, the narrator records his love for life. “It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of creation and turns it to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again . . . .”
I’m in awe of how well-written this book is, with its conversational tone of voice. It is also the best book I’ve read on what it feels like to be a minister. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 342 (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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For John and Ellen Summers, my dear father and mother.
First words
This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it (p. 28).
I want your dear perishable self to live long and love this poor perishable world (p.53).
I can't believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life (p. 104).
But if the awkwardness and falseness and failure of religion are interpreted to mean there is no core of truth in it.... the people are disables from trusting their thoughts, their expressions of belief, and their understanding, and even from believing in the essential dignity of their and their neighbors' endlessly flawed experience of belief (p.146).
I conceal my motives from myself pretty effectively sometimes (p. 147).
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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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Average: (3.89)
0.5 9
1 76
1.5 9
2 156
2.5 44
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3.5 121
4 661
4.5 104
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