Gilead

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead: A Novel, F.S.G. (2004).

The novel is in the form of a letter. A dying father wrote to his young son. He was almost 70 years old, his son was only 7 years old. So he wrote these (long) letters so that his son could know his father better, an opportunity he wouldn’t be able to have due to the circumstances. Rev. John Ames was a congregationalist pastor, and he related the stories of his life and his experience with his father and his grandfather, who were pastors as well. The setting is 1956, so the time frame of the book stretched from mid-19th century (his grandfather’s era) to the 20th century. The son, of course, if he read the letters in his later age, it will be set in the same time frame as us. A brilliant way to connect us, the contemporary readers, to the 19th century.

And you will find many interesting stories, like how his grandfather was a radical abolitionist who actually fought for the Union in the Civil War, while his father was a pacifist. And anyway it was still in 1956, where racial segregation was still prevalent. And, because Ames was a pastor, his account was theological. He was influenced by Calvin, Feuerbach, and Barth (if I told you that the writer is a Calvinist, how many of you will immediately want to read the novel?). His first wife died when she delivered their daughter, and, sadly, along with the daughter. He married his second wife, who was more than twenty years younger than him. It explains why his son was still very young when he was almost 70 years old.

And other stories like his relationship with his friend Boughton, a Presbyterian minister, and Boughton’s son, John Ames Boughton (to be named with your father’s best friend name… not cool). Ames distrusted Boughton’s son for his suspicious relationship with Ames’ wife and young son (I thought he was going to woo Ames’ wife after Ames died). Well, it turned out that Boughton’s son married an African-American woman and he wanted Ames to convince his father to accept the union. If Ames could overcome the age boundary line, why he couldn’t cross the racial one?

In overall, this is a fascinating theological novel (for me, I learnt a lot about American Christian religion establishment).

(My English sucks. The novel’s doesn’t. I think I have told you this: the novel won the Pullitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. Or I just can’t describe a novel. Hmpffh.)

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