Gilead (Oprah's Book Club)
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER• OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER• A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK • MORE THAN 1 MILLION COPIES SOLD
“Quietly powerful [and] moving.” O, The Oprah Magazine (recommended reading)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, GILEAD is a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part.
In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He "preached men into the Civil War," then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle.
Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father--an ardent pacifist--and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend's wayward son.
This is also the tale of another remarkable vision--not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames's soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.
Praise For Gilead (Oprah's Book Club): 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?