by Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Struas & Giroux 2004
Reviewed by Dana Capaldo, April 11, 2006
It is 1956. The Reverend John Amos is a 76 year-old man whose heart is failing. Faced with the certainty that he will not see his young son pass into adulthood, he begins to write a one-sided conversation with that son. This part letter, part diary, is Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer prize-winning novel Gilead.
Amos, the pastor of a small congregation in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, comes from a long line of preachers. His father, an ardent pacifist, preceded him at his church in Gilead, while his grandfather, an abolitionist, "preached men into the Civil War." This contrast between fathers and sons will be a recurrent theme throughout Amos's writing as he attempts to convey what is was like to be not only the son and grandson of such men, but a man of God in his own right.
Gilead is a short book, only 247 pages, allowing the reader to savor all of Amos's poetic observations. For example, on baptizing infants, "That feeling of a baby's brow against the palm of your hand — how I have loved this life." Or on the Midwest landscape, "I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees can still astonish me."
Early on in his letter to his son, Amos expresses regret that he has "almost nothing to leave you and your mother" and wishes that he had "set something by". Amos needn't have worried, for through the words of Robinson, what he passes down through his diary is a treasure not only for his fictional son but for the reader as well.
Gilead was chosen as the 2006 selection by the Iowa Center for the Book. To learn more about Gilead or the Iowa Center for the Book go to www.iowacenterforthebook.org