by Marilynne Robinson


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The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel

A New York Times Top-Ten Book of 2004

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

A PBS Great American Read selection

Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel "as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering." Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312424404
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 01/10/2006
Series: Gilead Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 28,998
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Marilynne Robinson is the author of the modern classic Housekeeping--winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award--and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989) and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


Iowa City, Iowa

Date of Birth:

November 26, 1943

Place of Birth:

Sandpoint, Idaho


B.A., Brown University, 1966

Read an Excerpt


By Marilynne Robinson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 Marilynne Robinson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-15389-2

Chapter One

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. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren't very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don't laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother's. It's a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I'm always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsigned after I've suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.

It seems ridiculous to suppose the dead miss anything. If you're a grown man when you read this-it is my intention for this letter that you will read it then-I'll have been gone a long time. I'll know most of what there is to know about being dead, but I'll probably keep it to myself. That seems to be the way of things.

I don't know how many times people have asked me what death is like, sometimes when they were only an hour or two from finding out for themselves. Even when I was a very young man, people as old as I am now would ask me, hold on to my hands and look into my eyes with their old milky eyes, as if they knew I knew and they were going to make me tell them. I used to say it was like going home. We have no home in this world, I used to say, and then I'd walk back up the road to this old place and make myself a pot of coffee and a friend-egg sandwich and listen to the radio, when I got one, in the dark as often as not. Do you remember this house? I think you must, a little. I grew up in parsonages. I've lived in this one most of my life, and I've visited in a good many others, because my father's friends and most of our relatives also lived in parsonages. And when I thought about it in those days, which wasn't too often, I thought this was the worst of them all, the draftiest and the dreariest. Well, that was my state of mind at the time. It's a perfectly good old house, but I was all alone in it then. And that made it seem strange to me. I didn't feel very much at home in the world, that was a face. Now I do.

And now they say my heart is failing. The doctor used the term "angina pectoris," which has a theological sound, like misericordia. Well, you expect these things at my age. My father died an old man, but his sisters didn't live very long, really. So I can only be grateful. I do regret that I have almost nothing to leave you and your mother. A few old books no one else would want. I never made any money to speak of, and I never paid any attention to the money I had. It was the furthest thing from my mind that I'd be leaving a wife and child, believe me. I'd have been a better father if I'd known. I'd have set something by for you.

That is the main thing I want to tell you, that I regret very deeply the hard times I know you and your mother must have gone through, with no real help from me at all, except my prayers, and I pray all the time. I did while I lived, and I do now, too, if that is how things are in the next life.

I can hear you talking with your mother, you asking, she answering. It's not the words I hear, just the sounds of your voices. You don't like to go to sleep, and every night she has to sort of talk you into it all over again. I never hear her sing except at night, from the next room, when she's coaxing you to sleep. And then I can't make out what song it is she's singing. Her voice is very low. It sounds beautiful to me, but she laughs when I say that.

I really can't tell what's beautiful anymore. I passed two young fellows on the street the other day. I know who they are, they work at the garage. They're not churchgoing, either one of them, just decent rascally young fellows who have to be joking all the time, and there they were, propped against the garage wall in the sunshine, lighting up their cigarettes. They're always so black with grease and so strong with gasoline I don't know why they don't catch fire themselves. They were passing remarks back and forth the way they do and laughing that wicked way they have. And it seemed beautiful to me. It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it. I see that in church often enough. So I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.

When hey saw me coming, of course the joking stopped, but I could see they were still laughing to themselves, thinking what the old preacher almost heard the say.

I felt like telling them, I appreciate a joke as much as anybody. There have been many occasions in my life when I have wanted to say that. But it's not a thing people are willing to accept. They want you to be a little bit apart. I felt like saying, I'm a dying man, and I won't have so many more occasions to laugh, in this world at least. But that would just make them serious and polite, I suppose. I'm keeping my condition a secret as long as I can. For a dying man I feel pretty good, and that is a blessing. Of course your mother knows about it. She said if I feel good, maybe the doctor is wrong. But at my age there's a limit to how wrong he can be.

That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. 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 a find it, either.


Excerpted from GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson Copyright © 2004 by Marilynne Robinson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What was your perception of the narrator in the opening paragraphs? In what ways did your understanding of him change throughout the novel? Did John's own perception of his life seem to evolve as well?

2. Biblical references to Gilead (a region near the Jordan River) describe its plants as having healing properties. The African-American spiritual "There Is a Balm in Gilead" equates Jesus with this balm. According to some sources, the Hebrew origin of the word simply means "rocky area." Do these facts make Gilead an ironic or symbolically accurate title for the novel?

3. The vision experienced by John's grandfather is a reminder that the Christ he loves identifies utterly with the oppressed and afflicted, whom he must therefore help to free. He is given his mission, like a biblical prophet. This kind of vision was reported by many abolitionists, and they acted upon it as he did. What guides John in discerning his own mission?

4. How does John seem to feel about his brother's atheism in retrospect? What accounts for Edward's departure from the church? What enabled John to retain his faith?

5. The rituals of communion and baptism provide many significant images throughout the novel. What varied meanings do John and his parishioners ascribe to them? What makes him courageous enough to see the sacred in every aspect of life?

6. One of the most complex questions for John to address is the notion of salvation, how it is defined, and how (or whether) God determines who receives it. How do the novel's characters convey assorted possibilities about this topic? What answers would you have given to the questions John faces regarding the fate of souls and the nature of pain in the world?

7. Marilynne Robinson included several quotations from scripture and hymns; John expresses particular admiration for Isaac Watts, an eighteenth-century English minister whose hymns were widely adopted by various Protestant denominations. Do you believe that certain texts are divinely inspired? What is the role of metaphor in communicating about spiritual matters?

8. Discuss the literary devices used in this novel, such as its epistolary format, John's finely honed voice, and the absence of conventional chapter breaks (save for a long pause before Jack's marriage is revealed). How would you characterize Gilead's narrative structure?

9. What commentary does John offer about the differences between his two wives? Do you agree with Jack when he calls John's marriage unconventional?

10. John describes numerous denominations in his community, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, and Congregationalists. What can you infer from the presence of such variety? Or does the prevalence of Protestants mean that there is little religious variety in Gilead?

11. What might John think of current religious controversies in America? In what ways are his worries and joys relevant to twenty-first-century life?

12. John grapples mightily with his distrust of Jack. Do you believe John writes honestly about the nature of that distrust? What issues contribute to these struggles with his namesake?

13. Discuss the author's choice of setting for Gilead. Is there a difference between the way religion manifests itself in small towns versus urban locales? What did you discover about the history of Iowa's rural communities and about the strain of radicalism in Midwestern history? Did it surprise you?

14. Abolition drew John's grandfather to the Midwest, and the novel concludes at the dawn of the civil rights movement. In what ways does this evolution of race relations mirror the changes John has witnessed in society as a whole?

15. Is Gilead a microcosm for American society in general?

16. In his closing lines, John offers a sort of benediction to his son, praying that he will "grow up a brave man in a brave country" and "find a way to be useful." Do you predict a future in which his hope came true? What do you imagine John experiences in his final sleep?

17. Robinson's beloved debut novel, Housekeeping, features a narrator with a voice just as distinctive as John's. Do the longings conveyed in Housekeeping and Gilead bear any resemblance to one another? How might John have counseled Ruth?

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Gilead 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 192 reviews.
Baochi More than 1 year ago
A few years ago, I bought a used copy of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and I aim to read most - if not all - Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners through the ages. However, I was in no hurry to read Gilead based on its synopsis. The combination of a seventy-something protagonist, an obscure town setting, and a religious theme just didn't sound like the page-turning story that I confess I'm always looking to read. Eventually, I had the good sense (or dumb luck) to pack Gilead alongside several other books for a solo vacation a couple of years ago. I love when my negative assumptions are completely upended, and the object of my assumption is revealed in beautiful truth. That's exactly what happened with Gilead. What I thought would be a boring novel turned out to be a profoundly transforming one. The story is narrated by minister John Ames, who is seventy-six and dying. As a gift to his seven year-old son, John shares his meditations on life, love, family, friendship and forgiveness. He describes three generations of Ames men, the misunderstandings between them, their love. Whether John is pondering a moment or a lifetime, he is never far from its spiritual significance. Those soulful musings - rather than coming off as preachy or unwelcome or scriptural - are delivered gently, simply. The prose is spare yet arresting and beautiful. Gilead is an experience.and yes, a spiritual one I am grateful for.
JS-in-KS More than 1 year ago
An impatient, cursory reading of this book may not yield its treasures. (Bookwormiam seems to have given such a reading. The pastor most certainly does forgive his wayward namesake. And he proves that he is not too old to see his wrong assumptions and change his mind and heart.) But for those willing to settle in and let the details seep in, there is quiet wisdom and unassuming beauty. One of the few books I've ever read which, as soon as I'd completed it, turned back and began to read it through again.
MarcusBrody More than 1 year ago
Marilynne Robinson is at times a beautiful writer, but this novel is not a showcase for her talents. Many other readers have commented on the absence of plot, which in and of itself is not a mortal literary sin. But when enveloped in a series of platitudes that rarely, if ever, manage to transcend the mundane nature of the narrator (a surprisingly self-absorbed Congregationalist preacher named John Ames) it becomes virtually intolerable. It might have worked as a series of loosely-connected meditations, but like the good Rev. Ames himself they remain stubbornly humdrum, almost banal. There's a sense throughout the book that Robinson could not quite figure out what kind of person she wanted Rev. Ames to be - he is, at various turns in the narrative, defiant, judgmental, contrite, and resigned. Alas, these oscillations do not make for a complex character, just an inconsistent one. There are many, many passages where the Rev. Ames's voice (which is otherwise one of the few unifying elements) drops away completely, so that it feels as though you're reading a theological lecture by Robinson herself. And yet there's a surprisingly noncommittal nature to those ruminations - everything boils down to "maybe, maybe not" (at one point Rev. Ames muses that, "My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature."). I heard many similar comments over bong hits in college, and they were not more penetrating that Robinson's. I say this all out of a profound sense of disappointment, as Robinson is clearly a gifted writer. And she isn't afraid to delve into history or religion. This effort, unfortunately, comes up short. With more discipline, and a bit of attention to storytelling fundamentals, this might have been a remarkable, even transcendent book. I would not recommend this book, except possibly as an effective sleep balm.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gilead's premise is a letter from an elderly father to his young son. A batchelor until he married late in life, and a new father in his 70s, the father writes to his son, in lieu of being present when the son grows up. Robinson gradually reveals the father's deep gratitude for becoming a father and tender love for his son and wife. As a long-time minister, the son and grandson of ministers, the father naturally writes to the boy of faith, his insights into pastoring a small town flock and Christianity. In addition, the plot very slowly unfolds (but it's worth waiting for) detailing the lives of his lifelong friends and neighbors, their family's history, and how the two families have become so intertwined. Be sure and read the companion book, Home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books in my lifetime, but rarely have I become so completely immersed in a work of prose that I literally had to take time to breathe. Gilead is one of the best-written, most poignant journeys into the human heart and mind that I have ever read. If it is indeed rare to find a book that leaves a permanent etch upon our minds and lives and changes how we live, then Gilead is the rarest of jewels, multifaceted and deep, and unshakeable in both its permanence and its humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually love pulitzer prize winners. I enjoy reading books where the literary perfection inspires me. Even more, I love reading books where I am left afterwards feeling moved. After I finished this book I felt nothing. However, this book is beautiful in the way it's written, but that wasn't enough for me. I found it boring. I really struggled through it and found I had to force myself to read every page. I hate starting books and not finishing them and the goal of simply getting to the last page is about the only reason I continued reading. There is no plot, no development of characters, and I found myself skeptical of most of the historical references. All around, I just was disappointed with this pulitzer prize winner. I didn't feel it deserved the honor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Totally not what I expected. It is very captivating and you get involved with the story. It shows and reveals the heart of a father and the love he has for his son. A great story!!!
susanthornton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gilead is a novel in which each word is worthwhile. Robinson is a really gifted author who gives us characters in the small town of Gilead, led by an elderly preacher. It is about love, loss, compassion, tolerance and probably every other aspect of the human condition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favoriets
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book on a sunny sunday in one go. i couldnt put it down. it reminded me a lot of my own father, an evangelical minister, and his love for me.
Mahuenga More than 1 year ago
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel guilty for not liking this book more than I did. I thought the writing decent enough, but the plot moved along too slowly to keep my interest. I was waiting for a climax which I felt never really happened.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm actually really glad I read Home first. Gilead fills in all the details about the town, and Ames, and most importantly Jack Boughton. If I knew all these plot details Home would have been a snooze fest (which many critics thought it was). Being from Rev. Ames point of view it has an air of patriarchy. It works because it suits the character. Ames approaches his own flaws but can't really see them. We readers can them though. The cracks in the facade are always the most interesting parts. Read Home first, then get all your questions answered in Gilead if you can tolerate Ames looking down at you from his big chair.My experience of this book was greatly increased by Tim Jerome's reading. After starting to listening to audiobooks a few years back, Jerome's is my favorite reading I've heard so far.
crimson-tide on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not an easy book to read, but is definitely worth the effort if you persist. I imagine it was also not a very easy book to write, and am not surprised about the long gap between her previous book and this one. The writing is akin to a meditation; slow, wise, humble, and as many others have said "full of grace". It's hard to say much except that it is impressive. The type of book that lingers long after reading.
dchaikin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this originally in 2005 and enjoyed it, but mostly wondered what I had missed and then quickly forgot what I¿d read. I re-read it after being won over by Home which left me with the feeling like I needed the whole story ¿ and at only another 247 pages it¿s not that difficult.All-in-all I kind of missed the point - again. I went through the motions of reading it, but got disconnected half way through, and I should have put it down for a bit; but instead plunged ahead wastefully.What I did get out of it this time was some better appreciation of the careful use language and of the overall complexity of the book's structure. In a sense this is three very different books in one. The first part is Reverend John Ames' background and life. He¿s in his seventies with a 7-yr-old son and he has severe heart problems. This book is his message to the grown son he will never know. He starts by telling stories of his childhood. He¿s a third generation minister and the stories of his grandfather and father¿s philosophical battles color this story. At some point he begins to leave the back stories behind and wanders around his own theology and his own takes on life. Then Ames' interactions with Jack, a troubled man, begin to take over the narrative, making the third part of the book. Jack sends Ames into a theological crisis of sorts ¿ or at least into some serious consideration on how the blend Jack into his lifelong-crafted thoughts on life. I¿m tempted to characterize the structure as first a theological background, then theological thoughts, and then theology put into action ¿ but that over simplifies and over-emphasizes the religious side, I think. Ames is not blindly religious, although he has his limits for dealing with atheism.What amazed me in hindsight is that while Jack¿s story is the center of this book, it¿s not necessarily the best part. For me personally the early sections were wonderful ¿ beginning with the trek Ames took with his father in 1892 on foot from Iowa to Kansas to find the grave of his grandfather who abandoned the family late in life. Ames was 12 at the time. As he digs into his father and grandfather, the color of these two comes out in a rawness of their differences. It¿s Ames wild grandfather that left the deepest impression on me. He came to Iowa from Maine during the era of bloody Kansas ¿ and he came as a man possessed having had a vision of Christ. He fully invested himself in the violence of the anti-slavery movement while ministering. He supported John Brown and inspired a generation of Gilead, Iowa men to enlist and die in the Civil War; and then he continued preaching to his dwindling church of widows after the war. By Ames childhood, his grandfather was a something of a crazy man who still had conversations with God out loud, and constantly sacrificed himself ¿ seeing himself only as a failure and disappointment of immense intensity. In one particularly riveting memory Ames¿ grandfather says to Ames¿ father, ¿Reverend, no words could be bitter enough, no day could be long enough. There is just no end to it. Disappointment. I eat it and drink it. I wake and sleep it.¿¿ In this deranged way he is somehow an inspiration. At some point in history President U. S. Grant characterized Iowa as ¿the shining star of radicalism¿ ¿ a concept so completely opposite of everything we think of in Iowa today that it mocks its modern counterpart. And Ames' grandfather is the symbol of this radicalism ¿ he¿s also based on a real character.I should have closed the book after this opening section and taken a break. Somewhere around page 100 the book gently morphs into where Ames begins to work in his theology and ¿ well, I didn¿t take it in. By the time I got the dramatic final story of Jack I was simply reading to finish.
bookheaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, introspective book.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much like a warm, cozy visit at Grandma and Grandpa¿s house, listening to the older folks reminisce about hard times and good times, gone friends, and family stories. A lovely tracing of home and heart by the main character, an old gentleman, who is reviewing his life choices and leaving wisdom in hand for his young son. Altogether winning; I loved it!
realbigcat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story of an older preacher from Gilead Iowa and his writings to his 7 yr old son. The Rev Ames struggles with his declining health and the struggle of getting down his history for his 7 yr old son. Meanwhile, his God Son and namesake shows up in town after a long absence and brings back trouble from the past. This book is beautufully written and the prose is wonderful. You feels as if you know the Rev Ames intimately. It's easy to see why Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer prize for this wonderful novel.
squeakjones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Gilead is deceptively simple: John Ames, a Congregationalist minister presiding over the town of Gilead in 1950's Iowa, is nearing the end of his life. He's in his 80's, has a much younger wife and a seven year old son, and he worries that his son will grow up not knowing the man his father was, only knowing the old, gentle Reverend he has become. So Gilead is the letter Ames writes to his son to ensure that Ames and his history is passed down.The language is also simple, in its way. Measured and careful, here careful literally meaning "full of care," it is the exact embodiment of Ames, a paced, virtuous prose for a virtuous man. There are shades of Steinbeck, of Melville, and it's written in such a precise voice you immediately feel every breath, every step Ames takes as he tells his story to his son.But what Marilynne Robinson has accomplished with Gilead is something far greater than the simple story of a minister wanting his son to remember him. She's taken the essence of family, of the love a father holds for his child, and distilled it in a work that reading it brings to mind all the images, scents, and sounds of a life lived radiantly and passionately with love. Only her second novel, written 24 years after her first, Gilead won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and very rarely have I read something that so instantly canonizes itself in my mind.Ames' story isn't just his own, it crosses and observes the events that marked the lives of his father, his grandfather, and his best friend and fellow man of God Old Robert Boughton, a man also in failing health, and a man with a shining eye for his son, John "Jack" Ames Boughton, named after Ames during his baptism and newly returned to Gilead for purposes not made clear until the end of the novel. And as Ames writes to his son about his history, he can't help but also write of his present, and his fears around Jack and his ever-increasing presence within his family's lives.One of the great surprises Robinson provides is that the circumstance described above doesn't go in the direction you hink it's going to go, although she has a lot of fun making you think it might. What is does do is focus for Ames the weaknesses he has to overcome, and provide him his last chance to redeem Jack and his own behavior towards him. When Jack finally explains his situation and intentions to Ames, you realize that as Ames is compelled to write this accounting to his biological son, so must he also reconcile his life and provide the things needed to his spiritual son.At only 250 pages, it's incredible that Gilead packs as much content as it does. It just goes to prove that in the hands of a master like Robinson, 250 pages is enough for an entire life. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I can't wait to get my hands on her newest novel Home, which seems to tell the same story from the perspective of the Boughton family. This is an instant classic and without a doubt the book to beat for my Book of the Year for 2008.
booksandbosox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this, I really did. But the whole time, I was bored. I knew going into it that not a lot was going to happen, that it wasn't a plot-driven novel and yet, I was still disappointed. I didn't find anything particularly wonderful or special about the prose. Certainly not what I expected from a Pulitzer-winning book. It picked up for me in the last half a little bit, but overall, I don't think this is a book that's going to stick with me.
Bridget770 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I made the mistake of reading "Home" first, but even with reading the books out of order, I enjoyed both. These books are not easy reads because they deal with heady subjects of God and religion and family dynamics with interpersonal relationships. Gilead was a slightly easier read because it's format is a father writing a letter to his son as the father knows he is dying soon. Not only is the book well-written, but it is intensely thought-provoking, particularly about spirituality.
ben_a on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not quite as miraculous as Robinson's Housekeeping, but a finely written book. It seems to me that plot is actually Robinson's enemy. When she just observes, and speaks in the voice of Ames, as in the first quarter of the book, she's a magician. The plot elements -- the struggle between grandfather and father, and the entry of Jack Boughton -- are not as perfect. Successful and compelling, but not perfect.
semckibbin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
*Spoilers throughout.*Marilynne Robinson impersonates John Ames III (JA3) a tired, mild 77-year old Congregationalist preacher in Gilead, Iowa. His father (JA2) and grandfather (JA1) were preachers, too. JA3¿s heart is failing, so he sets out in the Spring of 1957 to write a letter to his 7-year old son (referred to as Deacon, but is he JA4?). I don¿t think Robinson clearly thought through the narrative stance of this novel, since as early as page 17 Robinson must have the letter shade into a real-time diary to have something longer than an anecdote onto which to structure the novel. Since the diary is in real-time, only supernatural clairvoyance can explain JA3¿s decision to include John Ames Boughton (JAB) in the letter and eventually have his storyline dominate the novel; so much so that JAB¿s last monologue is quoted in its entirety. Early in the novel the JAB theme is driven by JA3¿s paranoia that JAB will harm his wife and child, but that slim plot device passes when the author springs JAB¿s recent history on us and that drives the novel to its climax. Robinson¿s Oh-By-The-Way-JAB-Married-A-Black-Woman is abrupt and does not grow organically within the novel; it¿s just a device used to swing around JA3¿s opinion of JAB so there can be a blessing. You see, fathers never rebuke sons---even if they do what JAB has done (and his conduct toward his daughter is an abomination).Robinson¿s style aptly imitates the tired and mild old man, although I thought her style might have instead imitated the tedious books our narrator has read (to have a perfect understanding of this novel I would have to have read The Essence of Christianity). The style is compatible with his intellect as he is too tired to provide knockdown arguments, but like Job rests instead in simple acceptance of personal religious experience. I appreciate how Robinson leaves some things hidden like where his present wife, Lila, came from and why she came to Gilead; what was written in that letter from JA2 to JA3. Robinson is so gentle and subtle, the change of gender of a pronoun carries great meaning. What do you do when the world passes you by, when your reason for existence is gone? Founded by FreeSoilers in the fight against slavery, Gilead, Iowa had a purpose, but by 1957 the need for the town has long disappeared. The narrator¿s family realize this early and abandon the town---and him. Grandfather JA1 (fire),fighting to have free people on free soil, finally abandons the family in 1890 to die in Kansas where he fought the good fight. Brother Edward leaves for school in Germany and returns in 1896 an atheist and leaves Gilead for good. His father, JA2 (ash), destroyed by Edward¿s change, finally leaves Gilead for Texas and loses his faith. In 1905 JA3¿s new wife dies in childbirth, and the child dies soon after. So what does JA3 (water) do? Like Job, he stays faithful to God; he lives on alone for 40 years in Gilead writing sermons that answer his own questions and which his flock do not understand. JA3 stays in Gilead because it is a place where ¿a harmless life can live unmolested¿ where he can throw around a baseball and know in his heart that he¿ll be one of those ¿for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained¿. There is a happy, uplifting end to JA3¿s story: Not only does he meet his new wife Lila on Advent 1947 and have a son---he burns those sermons.
bordercollie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moving as enchantingly and as gracefully as something under water, this long explanatory letter that elderly pastor John Ames writes to his young son contains another story of love and redemption in Gilead, Iowa. Pulitzer Prize winner.
solla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Please see the review of Home, also. One thing that I really appreciated about this book was reading something from the point of view of someone who is conventionally religious in a way that I definitely am not, and his world view being something I could respect. Recently I read a book about the Amish and forgiveness (Amish Grace) and one theme of this book, about forgiveness, made me think of that, about how you forgive and what you can forgive and whether you should.