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.
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.
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you
said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I
said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old. And you put
your hand in my hand and you said, You aren't very old, as if that settled it.
I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've
had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a
good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don't
laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. 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.
It seems ridiculous to suppose the dead miss anything. If ...
Fans of Robinson's debut Housekeeping have been waiting 23 years for her to publish a second novel. The result is worth the wait.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (518 words).
The Biblical Gilead is a region near the Jordan River which is described as having plants with healing properties. According to some sources, the Hebrew origin of the word simply means 'rocky area.' - which begs the question whether it makes an ironic or symbolically accurate title for Robinson's novel?
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" Jeremiah 8:22
An article from Publishers Weekly about Housekeeping
Pictures of the Gilead area.
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