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Gilead    by Marilynne Robinson order for
by Marilynne Robinson
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Picador, 2006 (2004)
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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

It is very hard to find anything wrong with this book. It has rightly been praised for its luminous writing. John Ames, the Congregationalist minister is dying. He has a young son, and this book is a letter to the man he will become, to make real for the son what his father was like.

While Ames is acknowledging and apologizing for his failings, we get an insight into a man who has always lived a godly life, and who measures everything he encounters against his inbred belief system. He is a living example of American Protestant faith, and the story he tells his son about his life and the disappointments in it are deeply moving. Yet at the same time, this final sermon contains much that is human. We learn about Ames' father and grandfather and how things were not as they should have been in this family of preachers. We also learn about Ames' namesake, a young man who finds it very hard to do the right thing, and how Ames must not only make peace with that but realize that the young man was better 'than he ever thought he could be' and that he needed somehow to let his son 'see the beauty there is in him.'

So, this quiet, deep celebration of life gives much to ponder. It is not a quick read; we are not at a superficial level here. We are in a small town in the mid-West, where things happen more slowly and must be savored, and where both change and death are inevitable but slow, and finally, where hope continues despite all.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005; it has received extensive critical acclaim and has been on the bestseller list for many weeks. I believe it speaks to a hunger we have for meaning, for making sense out of life. Its author, Marilynne Robinson, can only be congratulated for her success in depicting this small-town preacher's life of artless simplicity and what great meaning he is able to find in it.

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