Nissenson, acclaimed for his powerful narratives (The Days of Awe; The Tree of Life), here shows the tight grip of religious devotion on one young man's mind... History, politics, faith, and daily life all come together in a strong story.
"Nissenson's latest (The Days of Awe, 2005, etc.) is a marvelously intimate look back through time. Charles' fears and desires are made quite believable as he recalls the everyday horrors of the time-and the bits of Scripture that both justified and aggravated them. And while the young protagonist earnestly seeks salvation, his all-too-human failings-such as when he and the pretty Abigail Winslow flirt on the Sabbath-make him as sympathetic as any young striver since Holden Caulfield. The author's return to historical fiction raises human questions with immediacy and flair."
Nissenson has penned a bleak, unsparing novel, peopled with flawed humans and accurate period details.
The Pilgrim is such a delightful find. Hugh Nissenson's moody, intelligent novel is about a tormented English Puritan who strikes out for the Plymouth Plantation in 1622... It conjures up that dangerous black magic spell that the most powerful historical novels cast: The Pilgrim makes us feel that, even if this version of the past isn't quite accurate, this is the version we wholeheartedly believe - at least for the space of reading."
Nissenson spins a compelling historical tale steeped in the religious and cultural customs of the original Puritans... The authentically rendered first-person perspective that propels the narrative illuminates both Wentworth's prolonged dark night of the soul and his daily trials and experiences.
"The reader is transported back to the earliest days of the settling of America by the sworn statement of one Charles Wentworth, who came to Plymouth soon after the Mayflower landing. The powerful influence of religion and the church is portrayed through his struggles with both his humanity and his faith, as Charles mourns the tragic loss of his betrothed while at the same time reveling in the death of the 'savages' who must be conquered to create a safe new home. This is a great work of historical fiction"
"Hugh Nissenson's vision of a re-created society and ethos is remarkable, the language crafted out of plainness and purity a plainness and purity which, both in the individual phrase and cumulatively, rise to majesty. The Pilgrim is a masterwork of fierceness, insight, inhabitation, and relentless power." -Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies
"A lustrous recreation. Hugh Nissenson has taken the ore of research and transmuted it into the gold of art. The Pilgrim is impossible to put down until the final words. And then they continue to carom endlessly in the mind." -Stefan Kanfer, author of Tough Without a Gun (recent Bogart bio), Ball of Fire (Lucille Ball bio), Groucho
"Hugh Nissenson's The Pilgrim is a startling, beautiful, numinous prose-poem about the founding of our country. It will surely be enshrined forever in the canon of American literature." -Johanna Kaplan, O My America!, Other People's Lives
What starts off as a confession, a precondition before acceptance into the congregation at Plymouth of 1625, turns into the recitation of a journey between joy and hell for Charles Wentworth. Son of a Church of England minister, Charles prefers the separatists to the "popery" of the Church of England and swings between pious devotion to the Bible and the lures of the world and the flesh. Both desires take him from his provincial home to Cambridge, London, and eventually to the New World. Wherever he is, Wentworth's soul is always haunted by the question of whether he is saved or doomed in God's eyes. Nissenson, acclaimed for his powerful narratives (The Days of Awe; The Tree of Life), here shows the tight grip of religious devotion on one young man's mind, alongside the gritty world of early 17th-century England and Plymouth, MA. This is a look at not just how the Pilgrims lived but also how the human mind can torture itself in the name of God. VERDICT History, politics, faith, and daily life all come together in a strong story that will appeal to readers who appreciate any of those themes.—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ
Coming of age as a New England Pilgrim was a tough, bloody and sexy business. Charles Wentworth always had doubts. Raised in the English town of Winterbourne, "a godly town," as the son of a minister, the young man has all his needs cared for. But unlike his father, or even their illiterate servant Ben, his faith is shaky. Perhaps because of various heartaches and brutality not uncommon as the 17th century began--the death of his mother, the hanging of his nursemaid for infanticide, the smallpox that claims a friend and leaves him scared--Charles cannot believe he will be among the elect, those he believes are predestined to be saved. Even his love of learning seems to be a trick of the Devil's, a lure into vanity. Unwilling to finish his degree at Cambridge, young Charles bounces around, falling often into such sins as getting drunk and even visiting whores, despite his basic leaning toward the spare "true faith"--or Puritan--religion that his father secretly espoused. When the opportunity to emigrate to New England comes, he grabs it. The freedom to worship, however, comes with starvation, sickness and the constant fear of Indian attacks. It also brings the promise of new love and--eventually--the promise of salvation. Told in a straightforward first-person that indulges in just enough period detail to sound convincing, Nissenson's latest (The Days of Awe, 2005, etc.) is a marvelously intimate look back through time. Charles' fears and desires are made quite believable as he recalls the everyday horrors of the time--and the bits of Scripture that both justified and aggravated them. And while the young protagonist earnestly seeks salvation, his all-too-human failings--such as when he and the pretty Abigail Winslow flirt on the Sabbath--make him as sympathetic as any young striver since Holden Caulfield. The author's return to historical fiction raises human questions with immediacy and flair.