Book - 2004
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2005 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction 2004 National Book Critics Circle Winner 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.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, c2004.
ISBN: 9780374153892
Characteristics: 247 p. ;,22 cm.


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Sep 05, 2016

Yes, yes, and yes again. A lovely book constructed with care and beauty. Gives hope to the world that a writer produces a book such as this.

Mar 12, 2016

John Ames, a preacher in the small town of Gilead, Iowa believes he doesn’t have long to live so he writes a series of letters to his young son. Ames asks “What should I record for you? … And what else should I tell you?” Ames’ letters end up being a different type of instruction than he initially intended. The letters start off aimless and inconsistent but gain focus as Ames turns more introspective. All those years of writing his sermons, “trying to say what was true”, leaves him unprepared for his own moral crisis. He recognizes it as such, wondering what he would tell a parishioner that came to him with the same problems.

Ames weaves together current events in his life with the history of his father and grandfather, both of them preachers as well. In going back over his family history, Ames describes the role of religion in settling the Midwestern states as well the personal role of religion in the inhabitants’ lives. All of this history ultimately narrows to the role of faith and grace in Ames’ own life. His good friend’s son, John Ames Boughton (Jack), returns to Gilead ostensibly to take care of his father. Ames initially believes Jack plans to continue his life-long vexation of his family as well as Ames, but through much thought and prayer he looks at Jack with a perspective of grace. "I could forget all the tedious particulars and just feel the presence of his mortal and immortal being...He did then seem to be the angel of himself, brooding over the mysteries his mortal life describes, the deep things of man.” This soothes Ames, not just from his own standpoint but also because of prevenient grace, “which precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it.”

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor grey ember of Creation and it turns to radiance -- for a moment or a year or the span of a life." This transformation, of hope to realization or maybe also from ordinary to extraordinary, includes what Marilynne Robinson has done with John Ames' life.

Jan 02, 2016

Well worth the "listen." Beautifully written. Deep insight into personalities.

Nov 25, 2015

This is my third reading in about six years. The first melted me into nothing, and the second stood up quite well. This time I was a little disappointed - yeah, the person who said it left them feeling richer and better is right, but some of what was beautiful the first two times felt... flat? Trite? Shallow. I was less convinced. Still beautiful, but cheaper. And the racism is harder to ignore. One of the main threads of the novel doesn't work unless you accept that only some kind of saint could love a black woman. I recommended it with warnings previously, and now I don't know if I can even do that. (That said, the rhythm and texture of the prose is so lovely, and the successful bits of religion-and-family feeling so potent, I will likely read this again in a few years. Maybe. I don't know. Probably.)

Oct 21, 2015

This is my second reading of "Gilead," which I read about 6-8 years ago. I 've recently read Robinson's first novel, "Housekeeping," her fourth, "Lila," and the third, "Home." The first one is a stand-alone, but the other three are about the same set of people, though not strictly a trilogy. All her novels are almost completely character-driven. Readers who find that "nothing happens" are right, in a way. Yet a great deal happens, inside people's heads, as they grow and change. The elderly, ill Ames is writing a letter for his young son to read when he grows up, to give him the fatherly wisdom he won't be there to impart. But then his best friend's favorite son, always a thorn in his own side, comes home after 20 years away. This provides a huge frustration, ultimately teaching Ames a new lesson in forgiveness. It's amazing, humorous, and comforting, that when he finally learns the young man's truth, he finds forgiveness easy. The writing is fluid and beautiful, all the characters are well-rounded, and the relationships matter. Ms. Robinson does an amazing job writing in the voice of an elderly man.

Aug 18, 2015

Did not care for. slow

doully737 Jul 12, 2015


Jun 09, 2015

Read half, then quit. Dull, too much Christianity nonsense.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

If Robinson’s Housekeeping, written 25 years ago, touched you, you will truly be moved by her latest novel Gilead. Reverend John Ames, knowing that he is near death, writes a letter for his young son to read when he is older. Ames searches through his past, resurrecting family generations of ministers who seemed unable to make peace with each other. He is trying to understand his negative feelings for his old friend’s son, his namesake, a man who has crossed ethical and religious lines that Ames finds abhorrent. His philosophical meandering through his past is full of his search for God and his quest to find within himself the capacity to forgive.

Chapel_Hill_KenMc Nov 23, 2014

A quietly meditative tour de force that packs an impressive emotional punch. Not for thrill-seeking readers, but one that will stay with sensitive souls for a long time.

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Apr 09, 2014

sandra_src thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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Feb 21, 2011

an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart


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