10 March 2011

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Audiobook, 7 disks (9 hours)
Published April 1st 2005 by Audio Renaissance (first published November 4th 2004)

ISBN:1593978227 (ISBN13: 9781593978228)
original title:Gilead
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration

Goodreads synopsis:
"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 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.

I tried to read this a few years ago and didn't get very far. This time I loved it, and that is a testament to how being in a different frame of mind can make a huge difference in whether or not a book is enjoyable. I think the fact that I listened to it this time helped, as the narrator was excellent. He had exactly the right voice for John Ames, and It was easy to picture him and everyone of whom he spoke. I also thoroughly enjoyed how Marilynne Robinson wrote such a lovely book without being afraid to deal with meaty religious issues. This book is certainly not a theological epistle, but it isn't pablum either. It is beautifully rendered, and the portrait I came away with was of John Ames as a man of strong faith, a devoted husband & father in the sunset of his life, and a man humble enough to recognize his own fallibility and frailty.

There were several points through the where I had to back up and listen again, because the passage was perfectly written and profound. Perhaps my favorite was about love, and specifically that love and grace are alike in that the quality/goodness of the object is rarely the most important aspect. So true.

This was a great read, and one that will remain with me for a while.

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