Reviews for Gilead
Booklist Reviews 2004 August #1
Robinson's first book, Housekeeping (1981), remains an astonishment, leading to high expectations for her longed-for second novel, which is, joyfully, a work of profound beauty and wonder. Reverend John Ames of Gilead, Iowa, a grandson and son of preachers, now in his seventies, is afraid he hasn't much time left to tell his young son about his heritage. And so he takes up his pen, as he has for decades--he estimates that he's written more than 2,000 sermons--and vividly describes his prophetlike grandfather, who had a vision that inspired him to go to Kansas and "make himself useful to the cause of abolition," and the epic conflict between his fiery grandfather and his pacifist father. He recounts the death of his first wife and child, marvels over the variegated splendors of earth and sky, and offers moving interpretations of the Gospel. And then, as he struggles with his disapproval and fear of his namesake and shadow son, Jack, the reprobate offspring of his closest friend, his letter evolves into a full-blown apologia punctuated by the disturbing revelation of Jack's wrenching predicament, one inexorably tied to the toxic legacy of slavery. "For me writing has always felt like praying," discloses Robinson's contemplative hero, and, indeed, John has nearly as much reverence for language and thought as he does for life itself. Millennia of philosophical musings and a century of American history are refracted through the prism of Robinson's exquisite and uplifting novel as she illuminates the heart of a mystic, poet, and humanist. ((Reviewed August 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 August #2
The wait since 1981 and Housekeeping is over. Robinson returns with a second novel that, however quiet in tone and however delicate of step, will do no less than tell the story of America-and break your heart.A reverend in tiny Gilead, Iowa, John Ames is 74, and his life is at its best-and at its end. Half a century ago, Ames's first wife died in childbirth, followed by her new baby daughter, and Ames, seemingly destined to live alone, devoted himself to his town, church, and people-until the Pentecost Sunday when a young stranger named Lila walked into the church out of the rain and, from in back, listened to Ames's sermon, then returned each Sunday after. The two married-Ames was 67-had a son, and life began all over again. But not for long. In the novel's present (mid-1950s), Ames is suffering from the heart trouble that will soon bring his death. And so he embarks upon the writing of a long diary, or daily letter-the pages of Gilead-addressed to his seven-year-old son so he can read it when he's grown and know not only about his absent father but his own history, family, and heritage. And what a letter it is! Not only is John Ames the most kind, observant, sensitive, and companionable of men to spend time with, but his story reaches back to his patriarchal Civil War great-grandfather, fiery preacher and abolitionist; comes up to his grandfather, also a reverend and in the War; to his father; and to his own life, spent in his father's church. This long story of daily life in deep Middle America-addressed to an unknown and doubting future-is never in the slightest way parochial or small, but instead it evokes on the pulse the richest imaginable identifying truths of what America was.Robinson has composed, with its cascading perfections of symbols, a novel as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering.Agency: Trident Media Group
Library Journal Reviews 2004 July #1
As his life winds down, Rev. John Ames relates the story of his own father and grandfather, both preachers but one a pacifist and one a gun-toting abolitionist. Amazingly, just Robinson's second novel. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 September #4
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, "[t]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. Agent, Ellen Levine. 5-city author tour. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.