The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel
A New York Times Top-Ten Book of 2004
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
A PBS Great American Read selection
Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel "as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering." Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart.
Praise For Gilead: A Novel…
“At a moment in cultural history dominated by the shallow, the superficial, the quick fix, Marilynne Robinson is a miraculous anomaly: a writer who thoughtfully, carefully, and tenaciously explores some of the deepest questions confronting the human species. . . . Poignant, absorbing, lyrical...Robinson manages to convey the miracle of existence itself.” —Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Incandescent . . . magnificent . . . [a] literary miracle.” —Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly (A)
“Rapturous . . . astonishing . . . Gilead is an inspired work from a writer whose sensibility seems steeped in holy fire.” —Lisa Shea, Elle
“Lyrical and meditative . . . potently contemplative.” —Michele Orecklin, Time
“Perfect.” —Jeremy Jackson, People(four stars)
“Major.” —Philip Connors, Newsday
“You must read this book. . . . Altogether unlike any other work of fiction, it has sprung forth more than twenty years after Housekeeping with what I can only call amazing grace.” —Anne Hulbert, Slate
“So serenely beautiful and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“There are passages here of such profound, hard-won wisdom and spiritual insight that they make your own life seem richer. . . . Gilead [is] a quiet, deep celebration of life that you must not miss.” —Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
“Gilead is a refuge for readers longing for that increasingly rare work of fiction, one that explores big ideas while telling a good story. As John Ames might point out, it's a remarkable thing to consider.” —Olivia Boler, San Francisco Chronicle
Picador, 9780312424404, 256pp.
Publication Date: January 10, 2006
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
What was your perception of the narrator in the opening paragraphs? In what ways did your understanding of him change throughout the novel? Did John’s own perception of his life seem to evolve as well?
Biblical references to Gilead (a region near the Jordan River) describe its plants as having healing properties. The African-American spiritual, “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” equates Jesus with this balm. According to some sources, the Hebrew origin of the word simply means “rocky area.” Do these facts make Gilead an ironic or symbolically accurate title for the novel?
The vision experienced by John’s grandfather is a reminder that the Christ he loves identifies utterly with the oppressed and afflicted whom he must therefore help to free. What guides John in discerning his own mission?
How does John feel about his brother’s atheism in retrospect? What accounts for Edward’s departure from the church? What enabled John to retain his faith?
The rituals of communion and baptism provide many significant images throughout the novel. What varied meanings do John and his parishioners ascribe to them?
What answers would you have given to the questions John faces regarding the fate of souls and the nature of pain in the world?
Marilynne Robinson included several quotations from Scripture and hymns; John expresses particular admiration for Isaac Watts, an eighteenth-century English minister whose hymns were widely adopted by various Protestant denominations. Are certain texts divinely inspired? What is the role of metaphor in communicating about spiritual matters?
Discuss the literary devices used in this novel, such as its epistolary format, John’s finely honed voice, and the absence of conventional chapter breaks (save for a long pause before Jack’s marriage is revealed). How would you characterize Gilead’s narrative structure?
Is there a difference between the ways religion manifests itself in small towns versus urban locales? Did the history of Iowa’s rural communities and the strain of radicalism in Midwestern history surprise you?