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Gilead: An Oprah's Book Club Pick New Ed Edition, Kindle Edition
Audio CD, CD, Unabridged
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WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION and THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
AN OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK
In 1956, towards the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son:
'I told you last night that I might be gone sometime . . . 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 unsinged after I've suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.'
'A visionary work of dazzling originality' ROBERT MCCRUM, OBSERVER
'Writing of this quality, with an authority as unforced as the perfect pitch in music, is rare and carries with it a sense almost of danger' JANE SHILLING, DAILY TELEGRAPH
'A beautiful novel: wise, tender and perfectly measured' SARAH WATERS
'A masterpiece' SUNDAY TIMES
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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--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
“There are passages here of such profound, hard-won wisdom and spiritual insight that they make your own life seem richer…Gilead [is] a quiet, deep celebration of life that you must not miss.” ―Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
“The long wait has been worth it… Robinson's prose is beautiful, shimmering, and precise… destined to become her second classic.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“There is a lot of pleasure to be had in the novel's probing, thoughtful narrative voice.” ―Matt Murray, The Wall Street Journal
“Gilead is a beautiful work… Robinson's words have a spiritual force that's very rare in contemporary fiction.” ―James Wood, The New York Times Book Review
“Lyrical and meditative… potently contemplative.” ―Michael Orecklin, Time
- ASIN : B002TXZR4U
- Publisher : Virago; New Ed edition (7 May 2009)
- Language : English
- File size : 374 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 289 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #111,622 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- #775 in Religious & Inspirational Fiction eBooks
- #1,320 in Religious & Spiritual Fiction
- #1,600 in Classic Fiction (Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from India
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The novel is a profound contemplation on human life rooted firmly in the Bible and Christian theology. But the atheist-philosopher Feuerbach also appears intermittently with his cheerfulness. John Ames loves Feuerbach so much that his wife wanted to name their cat after the philosopher.
Love, joy of life, forgiveness… Such themes which draw their sustenance from the Bible and Calvin make the novel highly religious. Those who can appreciate that aspect will find this a highly rewarding book. The diction has the tang of a soothing breeze. That is a bonus.
It was gift and what a gift it turned out to be. I have recommended this book to my friends and families. Gilead, a book about fathers and sons, where Housekeeping was a book about girls and women, and fragmentary where one of Housekeeping's achievements was its fluid narrative completeness, takes an opposing narratorial position with a protagonist whose insider credentials could not be stronger.
It reads like something written in a gone time. So much so that when Ames's child draws Messerschmitts and Spitfires, it is actually shocking. This is part of its purpose, to be a conscious narration to the future from someone whose time was different and is over. "I believe I'll make an experiment with candour here," Ames says in letters which will eventually reveal his own opacity, as Robinson discreetly disrupts the monology.
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.
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on 2 June 2020
Top reviews from other countries
The book describes a bit of his relationship with his wife and son, and with his parents and grandfather, and his good friend Boughton. It throws in one or two anecdotes, but particularly in the latter part of the book, it focuses on John Ames Boughton - the black sheep son of his friend - who has returned to Gilead. As John Senior approaches death, he is particularly worried about Jack, his namesake, who, he believes, has designs on his wife and child. Jack is aware of his disapproval and they have several discussions, where Jack seems to be asking for forgiveness for past sins, and John seems unable to put aside his suspicions about him. Finally Jack reveals his secret concerns, and suddenly, John thinks of him in a different way, and wants to bless him and help him.
Once again, I am looking at the reviews on the back page of my current reading circle read, and wondering if I am incredibly shallow, because I cannot work out why the reviewers think so highly of this work. ‘Dazzling originality’/ ‘perfect pitch’/’a great work of literature’ are some of the comments. Yet again, a set of reviews, full of praise which I can’t echo.
In fact, this book sent me off to sleep so many times, it could be recommended as a useful sleeping draught.
One third of the way through the book, all I could say was that there were some pages which made me smile, some curious, but on the whole, I came back to these ramblings of an old man, not remembering what I had read before. Perhaps this says more about me than about the book.
Towards the end of the book, I thought we were moving towards some sort of a denouement, but it just didn’t happen. There were occasional references to matters mentioned earlier on in the book, but it felt as if I had been reading the book for so long, that I couldn’t any longer remember the beginning.
Aside from not finding much of a plot, or much interest in his story, I could not empathise with John, and for a preacher, I did not find him full of the milk of human kindness.
I would have been interested to know more about the back story of John’s wife. What made her marry an old man? And why was a certain emphasis put on her uneducated status, actually in a rather patronising way by John, without it being followed through. I thought more could have been made of their meeting and their decision to marry. Was the child really his, or did she marry John to give the child a father. For some time, I thought that Jack was the father of the child, and that might have been an interesting development. However, instead of this, was this sprawling non-story, masquerading as a novel.
I can’t give it more than 5 out of 10, which would equate to 2.5 stars, but I’m not feeling that generous, so it’s 2.
The thoughts and ideas of the reverend who narrates this book through writings to his son are so well developed that it seems to me that they must, at least in part, reflect the ideas of the author herself.
Some of the writing is philosophical in character and does need more careful attention then you might usually give to a novel. For example, when the reverend explains his view on our inability to understand the nature of God he writes :
" ... if God is the Author of existence what can it mean to say God exists? There's a problem in vocabulary. He would have had to have had a character before existence which the poverty of our understanding can only call existence. That is clearly a source of confusion". Not your standard fare!
But, don't get me wrong, the book is not all hard going and it does contain an interesting story, especially in the second half (which I wont spoil).
If I was to quibble with the book at all (and sometimes you simply feel not worthy to do so with some writers) it is that I didn't really like the book being presented as the writings of an elderly dying reverend to his very young son. I found this a bit of a distraction and would have preferred it to have been presented as a memoir to be read by me the reader.
But make no mistake Marilynne Robinson is a stellar writer, and this book has prompted me to investigate her more academic writings. I am partial to the writings of people like Dennett and Dawkins who she apparently attacks, so it should be interesting to see what she has to say on the limits of science.
As the narrator is a tired, dying man the narrative can sometimes be rambling, like thoughts being set down on paper, which only enhances its charms.
This is not necessarily for everyone and I would not recommend it to many people, only those I know would appreciate it's wears. It has no traditional story, some of the characters are very vague and we don't get to understand them or their motivations, the narrative can be rambling and on occasions confusing and although I found it profound I would imagine some would find it pretentious.
Me, I liked this and would read Robinson's other works given the chance.
I feel that the reason that the literary elite has embraced her so readily is that they have failed to realize that Robinson is deeply conservative. She reminds me of the saying “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” She’s a conservative in liberal clothing. And that has fooled many people unfamiliar with American conservative religion. I grew up in West Texas, in the middle of the Bible Belt. All the people in my family were long-standing Methodists with several ministers in the family genealogy. In fact, my father was a Methodist minister. My family was also deeply conservative, and every single member of the family was a Texas Republican at a time when a majority of Texans were Democrats supporting Lyndon Johnson. So I feel that I can see through the surface liberalism that Robinson seems to evoke when she speaks at a university or some other more liberal setting.
The reason I think this is important is that this novel is really a propaganda piece for conservative religion. John Ames, a Congregationalist minister in the imaginary town of Gilead, Iowa, is the perfect ideal of what a minister is suppose to be. He questions himself on theological matters, he tries to be a good person and not sin, and he shows concerns for Jack, the wayward son a his best friend, another minister in the town. This is all well and good. The problem stems from the fact that her presentation of the religious characteristics of of her imaginary town and Iowa is a complete fantasy. This fantasy is captured at one point when Ames comments, “This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas. And then Ames quotes from the Bible. “Thou wast in Eden, the garden of God...” Gilead is like some sort of American Garden of Eden, although for good measure she does touch upon the poverty and problems that Americans have suffered, from the loss of life during the Civil War to the suffering of rural folk during the Great Depression. But I must emphasize that she only touches upon these inconvenient realities. No mention of the thousands of pig farms polluting the drinking water of Iowa and causing a significant rise in cancer. We don’t want to talk about that!
For the most part Gilead is a religious utopia. She never really investigates the other side of American conservative religion. My experience with fundamentalist religion was apparently quite different from hers. Although there were many good people in the churches I attended in my childhood, and many of these people were generous human beings, there was a profoundly disturbing side to the religious life of these communities. When I was 12 years old my father, the good minister, was absolutely joyous when Martin Luther King was murdered. Even at such a young age I was shocked by his reaction. How could a man who preached “love thy neighbor” on Sunday turn around and celebrate the assassination of another person just because that person was black and was working for equality. And sadly, he wasn’t the exception to the rule. My entire family, and most of the people in my church, were racist to the core. Of course, they would have denied it vehemently. They would say that they have no problem with Blacks, so long as they stay on their side of the tracks, and leave white women alone. That event, and others like it, made me begin to question the ideas I was hearing in church every Sunday.
Robinson tries to address these issues through her character Jack. But isn’t it telling that the one person who questions religion, and also brings up questions about racism in the heartland of America, is also a deeply troubled man who steals in his youth and gets into serious trouble as an adult. Consciously or unconsciously, when Robinson creates a character who questions religion, or questions the contradictions in conservative America, they are always troubled people.
I’m sure many apologists for fundamentalist Christianity in America would say that you can’t judge the entire ideology based on a few bad apples. But why is there almost a direct correlation between deeply held religious belief and narrow minded attitudes. Although there are many exceptions, from what I’ve observed through my many years in the Bible Belt, the more religious a person is the more likely they are to being narrow minded, judgmental of others who don’t share their beliefs, and anti-intellectual. Why is it that most of the people who reject science are also conservative Christians. Robinson never even begins to address these concerns because it would damage her comfortable religious beliefs. A question I continued to ask myself as I read this novel is - if her characters were alive in 2016 how would they have voted in the election. I feel certain that they would have overwhelmingly voted for Trump. If Robinson, who has stated that she is opposed to Trump, really feels that way, she needs to ask herself why her novels so support the kind of people who would vote for someone like Trump.
And since Robinson spends so much time talking about theology we should take a closer look at some of her ideas in this area. For instance, she thinks John Calvin has been unfairly maligned. When I first heard her say this I was absolutely dumbfounded. Remember, this is the man who ordered the execution by burning alive of a man by the name of Severus simply because his ideas didn’t agree with his own beliefs. Calvin was also anti-Semitic. In his book, “Objections of a Certain Jew” he argued that Jews misread their own scriptures, and that Jews are a rejected people who must embrace Jesus to re-enter the covenant. Remember also that Luther, the founder of the Protestantism that Robinson so loves, wrote one of the most violently anti-Semitic books ever written, a book that inspired the Nazis to commit many of the thousands of atrocities against Jews. For both Calvin and Luther, the basis of their anti-Semitism, was their deeply held religious beliefs. After the Holocaust, how can Robinson possibly defend someone like Calvin.
In a review of Robinson’s latest book “Jack” by Jess Row in the Los Angela’s Times, Row states that Robinson is “willing to gloss over a century’s worth of inconvenient facts - from the racial history of Iowa to the doctrinal splits in Calvinist denominations that have produced today’s conservative extremists - in service to an idealized common Americanness that fades as soon as you try to bring it into focus.” And the great literary critic James Wood has stated that “Robinson is illiberal and unfashionably fierce in her devotion to this Protestant tradition...”
For all her gifts as a writer, it seems to me that Robinson is a person so deeply immersed in her religious beliefs that she can’t really see the reality of America, both its historical reality or the reality we face today in this country. But Isn’t this is the one thing that we turn to literature for? When we open a book don’t we yearn for insight, for maybe a little better understanding of the complexities of the world we live in? Robinson is unable to give us that.