Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The novel Gileadis a short book, but a very thick and dense read. The setting does not promise anything exciting and adventurous: the septuagenarian minister is writing a journal consisting of a series of missives to his very young son hoping that he could read it in his future. It is true – the novel is not exciting. Neither is it suspenseful. But the pearly unassuming beauty of the book is in its poetic wording and serenity of mind. The author of the book literally decodes the word ‘Gilead’: in the Bible it means a hill of testimony or a mound of witness. The testimony does not only apply to the account of events in the life of John Ames, but it also quietly heightens the significance, fascination and delicacy of everyday things.
The book in the form of journal entries presents a loving and subtle narrative. Sometimes the narration might seem repetitive, but I personally believe that it was done intentionally, and it is appropriate. After all, it is a personal account written by a very old man who relays his family history and aspirations to his son. The mere fact of repetitiveness actually emphasizes the humane nature of the narrator with his foibles and flaws; and it sounds warm, honest, loving, sincere, and personal.
Due to the nature of the narrative all characters look schematic, and the potential reader is just a child enjoying the pleasures of his age, friendship, and love of his parents.
The book celebrates parental love and human love in general as the minister seeks and finds the beauty in every human being, even in the most ostracized one. The whole book is a song of redemption of a father who will not be able to share and equally enjoy his parental responsibility due to his age.
The novel also explores the complexities, intricacies, and even ramifications of faith and spirituality and is potentially appealing to a thinking Christian audience. And the Christian nature of the book was the main challenge as I struggled through some passages religious in their nature and had to re-read them slowly. But the beauty of this books is in its concurrent equal appeal to secular readers. The novel does not have the preachy proselytizing tone, and I feel that its values are shared by secular and religious people. John Ames finds something so many people fail to do – he finds peace with his life. When I read the last sentences (‘I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep’ (p. 247)) I felt engulfing serenity and shared his peace of minds for some minutes as a soft and mellow aftertaste of the book.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Literary Fiction

2 responses to “Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

  1. Gwen Faulkenberry

    I am reading Housekeeping right now. It is lovely.

  2. It is on my reading list, but my reading list consists of gazillions of books, and all of them are good, exciting, interesting, engaging, and beckoning. Reading new books is a truly daunting, but exciting challenge. But honestly I do need help. Can anyone add just one more hour to an average day. I swear I will dedicate it to reading or book discussion only. 25 hours a day – Am I asking too much?!:-)

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