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In 1981, Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and became a modern classic. Since then, she has written two pieces of nonfiction: Mother Country and The Death of Adam. With Gilead, we have, at last, another work of fiction. As with The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzards's return, 22 years after The Transit of Venus, it was worth the long wait. Books such as these take time, and thought, and a certain kind of genius. There are no invidious comparisons to be made. Robinson's books are unalike in every way but one: the same incisive thought and careful prose illuminate both.

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

"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 Iowa 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 the 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. Gilead is the long-hoped-for second novel by one of our finest writers, a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part."

Customer Reviews:

  • Another book you can't put down to you finish it.
    Gilead : A Novel

    A man of the cloth who has a child later in life writes a letter to his young son. The father's death is soon and he reviews life by writing this letter. He tells his son about the love he has for his mother, friends and family he has lost and realizations about himself.

    Quotes: "The moon actually moves in a spiral, because while it orbits the earth it follows the earth's orbit around the sun."

    "It was like on of those dreams where your filled with some extravagance you might never have in life."...more info
  • Extremely Boring
    I rate this one star only because there are not negative stars. As another reviewer said there is no beginning, no middle, and no end. It is simply a rambling monologue with no plot or purpose; except to make money for the author. This was a gift so at least I did not spend the money; but it is a shame anyone did. I read it all the way through (which makes me more stupid than those that quit at half way), thinking it would get better; it did not. ...more info
  • What is our responsibility toward the prodigal son who never repents?
    John Ames is a 76-year-old Congregationalist minister with a failing heart. He has a seven-year-old son, the product of a late-in-life marriage to a much younger woman, whom he will not live to see grow up. Gilead is Reverend Ames letter to his son, a mixture of memoirs and advice.

    But as Reverend Ames writes, we become aware of unfinished business that he must deal with. And as we read his feelings and fears, we get a greater glimpse of the man that he is.

    Marilynne Robinson is a fine writer, and her talent shines through in this novel. I know an elderly Midwestern minister or two, and I think she has captured his voice perfectly in this book.

    This is a book about the importance of forgiveness, and the image of the prodigal son figures strongly in the story. But I believe the biblical story of the rich young ruler comes into play as well. Just as Jesus looked at the rich young ruler with love, despite of his failings, so should John Ames learn to love those who have disappointed him.

    Gilead is a quiet novel, and it's story appears deceptively simple. But it is a work of great depth. It's been quite a long time since I've wanted to immediately turn to the front of a novel and start again, but I wanted to with this one....more info
  • The Shack is MUCH Better
    As a preacher, John Ames, dies from a heart condition, the author, Marilynne Robinson, creates his fictional autobiography. Following are my thoughts regarding the form and substance of this novel.

    Set in fictional Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s, Robinson sets up a rich backdrop for Ames' memoir. Biblically, Gilead was a mountain of testimony; the entire book is Ames' testimonial regarding his life. By setting the story in the middle of 20th Century America, in its heartland, she further defines the main character's middle position (transition) at the time of the story. The 1950s represents a time roughly in the middle of the United States beginning its quest for freedom from its sin of slavery and a significant realization of this liberty with the election of its first African American president. (Though, obviously, Robinson was unaware of this realization as she wrote the novel prior to Barack Obama's election to the presidency.) Ironically, the state of Iowa, is a heartland state in which this story is set. Traditionally, middle-America represents the essence of the United States, even though its demographic composition does not reflect that of the entire nation. (However, ironically again, it was Iowa that made the difference in Obama's quest to become President.)

    Additionally, I appreciate Robinson's symbolic use of Ames' relationship with the Boughtons. Ames' struggle with the young Boughton's presence in the life of the Ames family continuing after Ames dies represents the grappling most of us face at the end of our lives. Whatever concerns us as we die we realize that we have to let go because we will no longer have any control over those circumstances. We do not even have active influence. Ames' struggle with young Boughton also represents the necessity of dying Christians to reconcile difficult relationships. In this instance, reconciliation includes Ames' forgiving Boughton of actions of which Ames disapproves.

    Structurally, I find the book a bit of a difficult read. While I understand the lack of chapters and more definitive divisions given that the book is more of a journal of Ames' thoughts and recollections for his son - not having these divisions impairs my reading enjoyment.

    Gilead fondly reminds me of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. In Proverbs we find many instances when the author is advising his son and entreating him to heed his words of wisdom. In Ecclesiastes, the author at the end of his life, is pondering the meaning of life overall and his life in particular.

    It is important to pass on to our children our knowledge and understanding of both the history of ourselves and our family as well as our worldviews. This inheritance is especially important when we parents will not be able to do so personally, as is the case with Ames. This preacher provides for his young son more than just a chronicle of facts. This memoir gives the boy a perpetual insight into the thoughts and cares of his father. Later, these accounts will help him understand himself, answering questions that could have remained dubious for him without the autobiography. This kind of gift to our children (and other loved ones) could be one of the highest forms of spiritual leadership.

    Despite the trouble I have with the lack of chapters, I appreciate Robinson's account of Ames' end-of-life experience. My appreciation could be deepened by the fact that the novel reminds me of my favorite portions of the Bible - wisdom literature. I also greatly value Robinson's literary techniques of setting, time, and symbolism. They richly add to the work....more info
  • Good Read
    Very good book. Thought provoking and a fast read. Some of the thoughts are very deep and said in a simple way. Enjoyable journey through his life and the insights he tries to pass along. Makes you stop often and dwell on an idea or a past bit of wisdom being described. Worth your time reading....more info
  • One of the worst books I have ever read.
    I hated this book. This was definitely one of the worst books I have ever read. Essentially, it is an old man's final rambling letter to his young son. There is little point to what he has to say to his son. The book is boring and drags on and on. I just wanted it to be over. I would never recommend this book to anyone....more info
  • Slow, but enjoyable
    Although this is a slow read and you may have to plod your way through, it is enjoyably slow. The style of writing fits with the main character, who is an old man near the end of life writing his memoirs to his young son. His (actually her--the author's) insights about life are astounding. At the end, you will be very glad you read it....more info
  • Read this book!
    This is a masterpiece. You will love the spare, forgiving tone of the religious narrator which Robinson assumes so convincingly. The other characters will seem like old friends when you finally put it down, perhaps after only one of two reading sessions. Every word is carefully chosen, every thought profound, interesting or funny - it is extremely humorous in parts. The sense of geography and place is extremely strong. One visits Gilead in the reading of this book, in fact, one becomes it. We know the foibles and follies of the townsfolk as if they were our own. We are encouraged not to judge, but to learn. Read this book if you are interested in theology certainly, but even more so if you are not. There is so much to love here - the calmness, the intelligence, the things in themselves hum. It's so beautiful. ...more info
  • beautifully written novel of reflection
    Gilead is a beautifully written novel of the thoughts and memories of a pastor in his later years. The main character recounts the events of his life and portions of his family history for his son when he is gone. This book is not as much action or event driven as it is almost a poem as a novel. The story is touching at times but at the same time gets somewhat repetitive regarding the relationship between the main character and his namesake. Worth reading....more info
  • A masterpiece
    This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It is graced with passages that literally make you stop, reflect, and re-read them again and again. It is proof that God does indeed work through what, we call, "genius." Magnificent. Some reviewers speak of the book's pointlessness or its slow pace, but I think (and I am not being arrogant) they are not ready. One must be in a certain place in one's life, in one's development, to truly understand and appreciate a work of this magnitude. ...more info
  • Nice book, well written
    I had my doubts about this one when I first started to read it, but soon my doubts were gone because this book is so sweet.

    It begins as a father recounting memorable events from his life, but then it evolves into some profound insights into human behavior. The book ends with the minister father, John Ames, and his name sake son understanding each other, after many years of not knowing each other.

    I marveled at the use of language in this book. It is told with an educated language, and it is so smooth: like a symphony.

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone. ...more info
  • A Minister Writes About His Life so That His Young Son Can Know Him
    Marilynne Robinson's first book, 'Housekeeping' is one of my favorite novels. It took her many years to write another novel but she has done it again. She's written a beautiful, poignant and haunting book.

    The story is about an Iowa minister who is 76 years old. He was widowed when young and remarried much later in life. He now is dying and will be leaving his 7 year old son and young wife behind. This novel is comprised of a book-length letter that the minister is writing to his son to be read posthumously.

    The book is part memoir, part philosophy, and partly a treatise on forgiveness and acceptance. The minister's best friend has named a son after him and this son has turned out to be the family black sheep. Not only is this young man the minister's namesake, but he is his Godson as well. The minister tries to understand him by writing about his life, the man's relationships and actions, and how the minister has learned to forgive things he did not initially understand.

    I give this book my highest recommendation....more info
  • The long version of the bible.
    I continued reading thinking to myself there must be more to this book or perhaps the ending makes it all worth while. However, this was not the case at all after I labored through the entire book. It was incredibly boring unless you really like reading the bible and someone's interpretation of the meaning. There were parts that were nice, but it just went on and on and on. I think I could have made better use of my time by reading a textbook instead of choosing this novel for what I thought was my reading pleasure.
    -Kate-...more info
  • A little slow
    Beautifully written, but very, very slow. One of the 'longest' short novels I've ever read. ...more info
  • A Hill of Testimony
    Marilynne Robinson's GILEAD is written in the form of a letter from an aging Congregationalist minister, the Reverend John Ames, to his young son. The novel is set in 1956. Ames, his young wife Lila, and their seven-year old boy live in Gilead, Iowa. Gilead, a biblical place whose name means "hill of testimony," seems to be something of a misnomer for a place so flat as that part of Iowa, but in the context of this novel, "Gilead" takes on an additional significance as a life testimony, and for Ames himself, a memorial (a grave mound). Ames, who is ailing with a heart condition, writes in order that later his then grown son will know something about whence he comes.

    Ames, his father, and his grandfather were all ministers. Ames's grandfather was literally called to the ministry, believing that he had been graced with visions of Jesus, of which most striking of all was an appearance of Jesus in chains. His grandfather took that to mean that he should dedicate himself to the abolitionist movement, and he became involved in some violent radical actions along with the (historical) abolitionist John Brown. Ames's father was, by contrast, a pacifist, and the father and son had a difficult relationship. Ames feels distant from both his father and grandfather. He loves his own son dearly, and yet knows his life clock is running out on him.

    It's difficult to carry off an epistolary novel. In the days before email, the letter was a real art form, though, and the best writers could be spellbinding and highly entertaining. GILEAD's success rests principally on the strength of Robinson's masterful use of language. Early on in the novel it seems like the story, as such, really isn't going anywhere, but you want to continue on just because the language is so beautiful--spare, astringent. Eventually, though, this reader hungered for something a little more. Later on in the novel, fortunately, some tension develops when Ames's namesake, John Ames Boughton, the son of his best and oldest friend, comes to town. Boughton, a disgraced profligate, returns as the prodigal son, but Ames isn't quite ready to assume the role of welcoming substitute father. Ames is also worried about Boughton's friendly contacts with Ames's wife and child.

    I had the opportunity both to listen to the audio version, read by Tim Jerome, and read the book myself. Jerome has a marvelous voice, perfectly suited for the Reverend Ames, but after a while I frankly found it tedious to listen to the audio version. On the other hand, I very much enjoyed reading GILEAD, even if, admittedly, it tested my patience at times.
    ...more info
  • Wanted to love it. Didn't.
    I am an avid reader, I write (and have published) fiction, and I teach writing and literature for a living. I say all of that not to brag (really!) but to emphasize that I love literature and I try not to make snap judgments about the books I read. All of that said, I found "Gilead" to be one of the biggest disappointments of my reading life. I loved "Housekeeping" and I am not someone who gets impatient with slow, seemingly plotless stories, yet I didn't enjoy reading "Gilead" at all. I can still hardly believe I'm saying this, but there it is: I just didn't get anything out of "Gilead."

    In "Housekeeping," Robinson shows us someone who is a genuine nonconformist and free spirit -- not in a flamboyant, in-your-face way, but truly, deeply, and admirably. She also shows us the price a person ends up paying, sadly, for being a free spirit. I found this moving and brilliant in large part because she doesn't make any simplistic conclusions. The opposite seemed to be true of "Gilead." To be blunt, the sense of "wonder" that permeates John Ames' narrative ends up seeming like nothing more than an eloquent version of Forrest Gump's bland, overly simplistic platitudes. It's no wonder so many people loved the "message" of this book: who wouldn't love being told that we should take time to appreciate the wonderfulness of the world? It's something almost everyone already believes, so when a book reinforces this idea, we don't have to worry about feeling self-indulgent for believing it. Yes, I know that's a gross oversimplification itself, but still, I found this book almost entirely on the same note from the first page to the last, and rather than feeling "wonder," I felt profound disappointment.

    I do admire that Robinson is an original, a writer clearly not in the least bit swayed by literary trends. She writes her own books, the way she wants to, in her own good time, and that is a very rare thing. However, this one simply did nothing for me. ...more info
  • Nicely written, but ultimately, perhaps, pointless
    Pointless, to me, is a strong word to use, and I spent a few seconds thinking about the title of my review before I finally decided to type that word. I think one reservation I have is simply calling a novel pointless which has received so much praise, both critically and otherwise. I certainly don't want to be disregarded as someone who doesn't "get" literary fiction, but finally I decided that that was a ridiculous reason and I have no reason not to state how I really feel.

    Having said that, I'll go on with the review. Just before I read Gilead, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. After reading these two novels, I seriously sat there and wondered just what it takes to win the Pulitzer Prize these days. While I found The Road extremely tedious and, quite frankly, boring, it at least had a narrative thread that was supposedly leading somewhere.

    Almost from the beginning of Gilead you can see that this novel has no real narrative thread, at least not in terms of a story or even much of a plot. It is written as a father's letter to his son, and that's exactly how it sounds. Just as anyone might write whatever they are thinking at any moment, so too does this narrator. There are literally passages in the "novel" which begin like this: "That suddenly made me think of something else I wanted to tell you..."

    While I have a broad understanding of what it means to be a novel, and the different forms and subjects a novel can use, this particular book is a bit of a disgrace. I fully believe that if this were written in a fiction writing workshop, or if it were Robinson's first novel, that it would be criticized to death for its lack of structure or narrative. But as it is, because she released a (supposedly) good novel a long time ago, and there was such hype about this one, instead it wins the Pulitzer Prize.

    Gilead is well-written in a quiet, subtle way, and often good prose is enough for me to enjoy a novel, even if I find the story boring. But here it just did not suffice. I suppose if pressed hard enough I might even say that it's not *that* well-written, but it is certainly literary.

    The real question to ask yourself is if you want to invest the time to read 250 pages which really seem to amount to very little in the end....more info
  • gorgeous
    What an amazing book! Quiet, thoughtful, slow-moving....but so thought provoking. Events unfold delicately, memories surface gently -- there's a wistfulness to this book that is rarely found. It's hard to believe that this book was not written by a male minister, it so completely gets into his head and heart. ...more info
  • A meandering stream...
    John Ames, a septuagenarian, small-town Iowa preacher has a failing heart. In an effort to compensate for the time they will never spend together, he writes an extended letter to his seven-year-old son. Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson, is that letter.

    Though book-as-letter has been a precarious literary device since the inception of fiction, the brevity of Marilynne Robinson's novel makes it more palatable than it might at first seem. Ames has family history to tell - his grandfather collaborated with the abolitionist John Brown - and there is much personal history too, of which Ames struggles to make sense within the framework of his unshakable belief.

    Gilead is a slow, patient, introspective passage through the mind of a man who, for 70+ years, has watched time unfold on the Iowa prairie. It is the mark of an outstanding author that a scenario so seemingly prosaic can be worked into a portrayal so meaningful, (more meaningful, perhaps, to a father with a young son). Was it un-put-downable? Well, no. But, it was undoubtedly worth the handful of days it took to navigate this short yet sinuous journey of love, faith, and forgiveness. I rate it a solid 4 stars. ...more info
  • A Book for Reflection
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a novel for reflection. It is not just one of those books that can be read on a whim but must be read in a quiet place, where there are no distractions. I give Gilead, though it was a good book a 4 because it took a little while to get into it.
    Once I was in the story I was hooked and actually finished the book within three hours. Recently I have been reading my "teen" novels just for something to read and I have come to the realization that I have outgrown them. They bore me, their problems and ideas are trivial unlike Gilead's, which are real, lifelike and not superficial.
    The story is told through a series of letters by narrator Reverend John Ames to his son. He recants about visiting the gravesite of his grandfather and how much he learned about his father while doing so. They are a soft family, kind, resourceful, and always positive. Though Reverend Ames is dying of a failing heart and has lived a hard life he continues to persevere and write in order to guide his son through life. Reverend Ames's first born, a daughter, died when she was a baby and now John Ames who is 76 will die before his sees his 6 year old son grow older.
    Gilead, to me is a story about finding yourself through the words of John Ames. It helps a person reflect on their own life and pushes the reader to think about his or her decisions in life. Gilead is inspirational and should be loved until the end of time because Reverend John Ames could be the person living next door. You never know.
    ...more info
  • An enjoyable read
    The critics hailed Marilynne Robinson's second novel, Gilead, when it was released in 2004. However, everyone I talked with about the book confessed that it was a total snoozefest. The novel came up in conversation with a new friend recently who was sure I would enjoy this character-driven novel.

    I had a little trouble getting into the story as it is a letter from the 76/77-year-old John Ames to his six/seven-year-old son. I think the problem results because the letter does not begin with "Dear..." The son's name is never given, which I found irritating. Why keep it a secret? The novel starts by stating "you" and that always makes me squirm. I felt as if Reverend Ames was addressing me, and I hate that in a novel.

    The letter that John writes flows smoothly, relating stories about his grandfather and father, and the child's much younger mother. The stories are peppered with family history and John's best friend and colleague Don Boughton. Like Ames, Old Boughton is nearing the end of his life but seems to be in much worse shape.

    Boughton's son Jack, has returned to Gilead. To Ames, he is a godson and a potential threat to become his wife's new lover after Ames dies. Jack, however, has other problems he is trying to resolve, the nature of which is quite surprising.

    It may seem that the letter rambles a bit, but it is carefully constructed. Gilead is reminiscent of William Faulkner's Absalom! Abaslom! in that the same story may be told repeatedly, but with each telling, a new information is gleaned. I got a bogged down on Ames' interpretation of the Fifth Commandment. Ames descends from a long line of preachers so his comments and thoughts are not unexpected.

    One thing I did find surprising and am hopeful that Robinson will give us in the future is the text to the thousands of sermons Ames has written and are now stored in the attic. I find myself wishing I could take a peek in the boxes.

    Gilead isn't for everyone, but I enjoyed the read.

    Armchair Interviews agrees. ...more info
  • Best book I've read in years
    I loved this book. If you are looking for a gripping story, look elsewhere because the "story" in this book is hard to tease out. It read more like poetry in prose, lots of beautiful meandering glimpses of the things that make life good and hard. I think it would be difficult to appreciate the book unless you identify or at least strongly sympathize with Christian expressions of faith. As a Christian though, I felt this novel was infinitely superior to the sappy drivel that is usually produced by Christian authors trying to write about faith. One of the reviews on the jacket struck me as the best summary, it said something like it was the story of a man of integrity reflecting on a life lived well. There are not many stories in our culture that fit that description and I found this one to be singularly moving and uplifting....more info
  • Sentimental and boring.
    I guess the title says it all. I liked the writing style. However, this is probably one of the most boring books I have ever read. I couldn't even finish it. So maybe it picks up in the second half. I will never know and have no interest in finding out....more info
  • A gentle, lovely novel
    This was my first introduction to Robinson and I have to say that I was so impressed with her prose and story line. She teaches us much through the life and death (or process of dying)of John Ames. This book was recommended to me by a friend and I have purchased it as a gift for someone else. Very moving. This is not in-your-face, Polyanna Christianity. This is about living and dying and honoring God in the process....more info
  • Took my breath away
    I bought "Gilead" shortly after it came out, based on the reputation of the author and her first novel, "Housekeeping." Yet I didn't get into it and it languished in a big pile of books until this weekend, when I happened on it and tried again. This time I couldn't put it down. Ms. Robinson's writing is luminous, as are the messages of hope and faith in this book. The more you read, the more compelled you are to read further, as the story builds and much is revealed in the final pages. This book took my breath away. It's easy to understand how it won the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is stunning and the story is at the same time hopeful, yet sad and haunting. I won't soon forget this book. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it....more info
  • Bitter and sweet and always brilliant!
    I was initially put off by the format, an aged father writing a series of journal entries for his young son to read when he is older after the father has passed away.

    But it is so beautifully done that I found myself immersed, involved with all the characters, and literally unable to put the book down until I had finished it.

    Glad I delayed reading it this long as now I can go right on to her new book, "Home"....more info
  • Huh?
    This was the most unbelievably boring and pointless book that I have read in a long time. The words are nicely strung together but the author has absolutely nothing to say...more info
  • Giliad by Marilynne Robinson
    Giliad is an incredible book which needs to be read and re-read. It is full of thought, purity and quiet contemplation and is totally absorbing. One needs time to think and rethink all that it says and of all the books that I have read, this one is the most satisfying yet stimulating....more info
  • Contemplative and Fulfilling
    There are so many things that this book is "about." Fathers and sons, the desire to be remembered when you have left this World for the next, family histories (and skeletons), redemption, love, the transformations of Faith.

    Marilynne Robinson expects her readers to rise to the occasion when they are reading GILEAD. There is no dumbing down of the text to make it accessible, and for this I am glad. Words as put together by Marilynne Robinson are meant to be savored rather than swallowed whole. I recently read an atrocious book which has as its premise a parent creating a memoir for their child, and that experience served as a counterpoint to what this story, which has a similar basis, can be when done well. It is done magnificently here.

    Reverend John Ames knows that he will not be able to watch his little boy grow up, and he wants to leave him a story, something telling the little one what his father was like, and what kind of heritage he has. Woven throughout this narrative is Ames' own struggle with being a good Christian while having some uncharitable thoughts about others. Ames is a delightfully approachable and human character; just because he's a Reverend doesn't mean that he doesn't have faults and foibles. Discovering this about him is what makes GILEAD a five-star read.

    Robinson writes about Faith as it would be if I practiced it as I wish to, and her lyrical prose, "nothing true about God was ever spoken from a position of defense," serves to help me structure my own thoughts about God in a manageable, peaceful way.

    Many times, I read a novel and it washes over me and then it is gone. GILEAD is something like a delicious meal, in that it has stayed with me, and continues to expand and nourish, giving me continuous satisfaction and fulfillment....more info
  • Worth the effort
    This book is not for everyone. The plot, if you want to call it that, is not fast paced. It could almost be said that the book is plotless. If, however, if you want to read a beautifully written novel featuring a powerfully written character, this book is worth the effort. If I had realized the type of book it was, I probably wouldn't have chosen it, but once I began it, I was so glad that I had. Since it's different than most contemporary novels, it takes a little more effort, but the results make it worth it....more info
  • This is a nearly perfect book
    Gilead is a nearly perfect book.

    It is quiet, multi-layered, and deeply spiritual. Composed in the form of a letter from the elderly protagonist, John Ames, to his young son, the work is a meditative near-monologue about faith, anger, love, and forgiveness; emotional patrimony, isolation, and loneliness. Absent characters loom large, and vast haunted landscapes are communicated in just the barest of verbal exchanges.

    It also is without question an American novel; Robinson has made an unspoken agreement with her readers that we possess some intuitive understanding of the fiery arc of radical abolitionism and its dissipation, of the Congregationalists who moved from New England to claim the prairie as Free-Staters, and of the central role of Calvinistic theology in shaping a certain type of intellectual life....more info
  • Not a fan
    There's loads of reviews on this book so I won't duplicate explanations. However, I must say I fell into the category of those readers that just didn't care for this book. Yes, it has a quiet, gentle, reflective theme, but I admit to being just plain bored stiff.

    Sometimes after I've started a book that I just can't get into, I come to Amazon and read the reviews of others to see if I'm just totally off base. Then, I restart the book with a different attitude and try to envision what it was that others saw. For me, I never could capture the feelings of those readers who gave "Gilead" a 5 star rating. There were pages and pages that I read and reread time and again just trying to get something out of it. I didn't really become interested in this book at all until about page 220 when Jack Boughton reveals his reasons for returning home.

    This is not to diminish other reviews as we all certainly get something different out of the books we read. For me, however, it was just a waste of time....more info
  • Among the Best of Modern American Literature
    I am not usually one for slow paced novels. Especially ones about the trials and tribulations of a small town mid-western preacher. But Gilead is different. This is one of the best constructed and most beautifully written novels I have ever read. Characters come into focus through small details and moments that make up everyday life, and by the end, I was reading this like a page turning thriller; staying up late into the night to find out what happens to the characters.

    If you want to see the best that modern American fiction has to offer, I highly recommend Robinson and Gilead....more info
  • Not worth one star.
    I read a lot and enjoy most everything I read, but not this book. I kept reading it thinking it had to get better, had to have some redeeming value. No. It doesn't. I finally quit half way through and I'm so glad I did....more info
  • Wonderful bedtime reading - puts me to sleep everytime.
    I keep this book by my bed as a sleep aid. Even if I am not feeling overly tired, I read a few pages and I can't keep my eyes open. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with insomnia!...more info
  • Greatest of the great!
    I purchased this book because I read it a long time ago and it's made a profound impact on my life. Robinson is such a great writer...drawing us into her world and keeping us there from page one to the end! Superb!...more info
  • A Beautiful Novel, Well Worth Your Time
    I bought this book simply because it won the Pulitzer and I wanted to read something a little deeper than my usual beach read fare.

    It took me some time to get into it, after about 50 pages I realized that I had to slow down and read it more carefully. I went back to the beginning and started to read it like a letter and then I got it. Ms. Robinson has a way with words, if you allow them to they can transport you to the time and place she's writing about.

    I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading this short book and by the time I was done I felt I was a part of the family. I've since lent this book to several people and received varying reviews from them but everyone loves the use of language....more info


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