A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER• OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER• A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • MORE THAN 1 MILLION COPIES SOLD
“Quietly powerful [and] moving.” O, The Oprah Magazine (recommended reading)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, GILEAD is a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.
In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He "preached men into the Civil War," then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle.
Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father--an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.
This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
“The only word for this book is sublime,” said Oprah, upon announcing her 87th book club pick. American novelist Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning second novel tells the life story of Rev. John Ames from the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa. As the reverend’s health deteriorates, he decides to write a confessional letter to his only son. Ames uses this outlet to grapple with his shortcomings and doubts and provide a provocative, philosophical perspective on faith, love, and human frailties. Gilead has a quiet, revelatory power that sneaks up on you and an elegant wisdom that sticks with you. Inspiring a sense of wonder in the everyday world, Gilead deserves that too-often-used accolade: the Great American Novel.
Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut Housekeeping (1981) will find that the long wait has been worth it. From the first page of her second novel, the voice of Rev. John Ames mesmerizes with his account of his life and that of his father and grandfather. Ames is 77 years old in 1956, in failing health, with a much younger wife and six-year-old son; as a preacher in the small Iowa town where he spent his entire life, he has produced volumes and volumes of sermons and prayers, "rying to say what was true." But it is in this mesmerizing account in the form of a letter to his young son, who he imagines reading it when he is grown that his meditations on creation and existence are fully illumined. Ames details the often harsh conditions of perishing Midwestern prairie towns, the Spanish influenza and two world wars. He relates the death of his first wife and child, and his long years alone attempting to live up to the legacy of his fiery grandfather, a man who saw visions of Christ and became a controversial figure in the Kansas abolitionist movement, and his own father's embittered pacifism. During the course of Ames's writing, he is confronted with one of his most difficult and long-simmering crises of personal resentment when John Ames Boughton (his namesake and son of his best friend) returns to his hometown, trailing with him the actions of a callous past and precarious future. In attempting to find a way to comprehend and forgive, Ames finds that he must face a final comprehension of self as well as the worth of his life's reflections. Robinson's prose is beautiful, shimmering and precise; the revelations are subtle but never muted when they come, and the careful telling carries the breath of suspense. There is no simple redemption here; despite the meditations on faith, even readers with no religious inclinations will be captivated. Many writers try to capture life's universals of strength, struggle, joy and forgiveness but Robinson truly succeeds in what is destined to become her second classic.
Great novel, so-so narrator
Overall I really enjoyed reading this. Never read a piece of literature quite like it — a unique narrative flow in the form of a letter to the narrator’s son, with a plot that was partly linear, partly flashback, and partly something else altogether. Lots of great aphorisms throughout. However, the narrator frustrated me greatly by the end, as I found him to be rather unlikeable, and I’m not sure that I was supposed to! His views on Jack and the way he treated him upset me quite a bit. Definitely curious to read more in this series and experience other perspectives.
I have been an avid reader for 50 years. Never have I finished a book, and immediately started over again until this book. The writing is so beautiful, so poetically simple, so lusciously written, I found myself sharing passages with my friends (another first for me). It is a beautiful, subtly written story of a truly self-examined life. I am an agnostic, so the fact that I could relate to and admire the main character in this book is another testament to this author's great talent.
Almost truly great
At first I couldn’t put this book down. About halfway through, it started to get long, but it didn’t disappoint. Several times it started to lose my interest, but then it always brought me back. If a few of the storylines had been shortened a bit, this would be a strong 5-star review.