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A hymn of praise and lamentation from a 1950s preacher man. Atestament to the sacred bonds between fathers and sons. A psalm of celebrationand acceptance of the best and the worst that the world has to offer. This isthe story of generations, as told through a family history written by ReverendJohn Ames, a legacy for the young son he will never see grow up. As John recordsthe tale of the rift between his own father and grandfather, he also struggleswith the return to his small town of a friend’s prodigal son in search offorgiveness and redemption.
The winner of two major literary awards and a New York Times Top10 Book of 2004, Gilead is an exquisitely written work of literaryfiction, destined to become a classic, by one of today’s finest writers.
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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
MARILYNNE ROBINSON is the recipient of a 2012 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama, for “her grace and intelligence in writing.” In 2013 she was awarded South Korea’s Park Kyong-ni Prize for her contribution to international literature. She is the author of Lila, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a finalist for the National Book Award; Gilead, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Home, winner of the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a finalist for the National Book Award. Her first novel, Housekeeping, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Robinson’s non-fiction books include The Givenness of Things, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Absence of Mind, The Death of Adam, and Mother Country, which was nominated for a National Book Award. She lives in Iowa City, where she taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop for twenty-five years.
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