Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Before starting Gilead I had no idea what the book was about. The only reason I even picked this book up is because I needed something to read for Orange January and Gilead happened to be long listed for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson was published in 2004. It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book is named after the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, where the story is set.

The year is 1957 and Reverend John Ames is slowly dying. Afraid of leaving behind his young son with no memory of who his father was, Reverend Ames begins to write his memoire.

Reverend Ames is a character one is bound to feel sympathetic toward. I felt his fear of leaving behind those he loves, of his son not knowing who his father was but what I felt most keenly was that he had a certain sense of calmness even at the face of death. Sure he is worried about his family but that doesn’t send him into a panic. Of course, that doesn’t mean he is unrealistically ‘saint like’. His dislike of his god son John ‘Jack’ Ames Boughton and his bouts of jealousy make him human.

Through Reverend Ames’s narrative we can see his father, mother and grand father’s lives. Both his father and grandfather were also preachers. His parents come across as gentle people trying hard to eke out a living during the Great Depression. His grandfather on the other hand is a fiery fanatical man, a supporter of John Brown. It is clearly understandable that it is his grandfather who has left the deeper impact on Reverend Ames’s psyche. Although a gentle, forgiving man himself, Reverend Ames keeps reminiscing about his fierce, vengeful grand father’s life and death more than anything else. The description of Reverend Ames’s grandfather’s life is so vivid that I can picture him preaching with a gun in a bloodied shirt.

‘Exciting’ isn’t the word to describe Marilynne Robinson’s writing. Robinson’s prose is very staid and placid for the most part. I felt kind if bored at times. But there are parts which kind of jolts one out of the stillness,

“The truth is, as I stood there in the pulpit, looking down on the three of you, you looked to me like a handsome young family, and my evil old heart rose within me, the old covetise I have mentioned elsewhere came over me, and I felt the way I used to feel when the beauty of other lives was a misery and an offense to me. And I felt as if I were looking back from the grave.”

Gilead obviously has a pretty high quotient of religious content. I had no idea what it was about before I read it so I didn’t know about that. If I had known I probably would not have read it. This is not my kind of book at all.

Though a bit heavy at times Gilead overall a likable read. This may not be for everyone but it is well worth at least one read.

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