Published by Picador on October 28, 2004
Read synopsis on Goodreads
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When I first read the synopsis for Gilead, I almost passed it over because it sounded so religious. I’m not one to shy away from religious books but they don’t rank on my list of favorites. So, when I came across a review that said this is the perfect religious book for the non-religious, I was intrigued, if skeptical. It turns out the review was right. Although Gilead is the story about a dying minister and his musings on life and faith, written as a journal to his son, it’s less about religion than it is about life and our place in the world.
Gilead is 247 pages long but is written as a single chapter. It’s told from the point of view of John Ames, a 76 year old man who knows he is dying and wants to impart his wisdom to his young son. In it, he shares his love for his wife, who is several decades his junior, his family history, and how faith has helped guide his life. His story is both as humbling as it is introspective, and there is a beauty in the way he describes his faith that even the non-religious will appreciate. Perhaps this is because John is open to questions, and in his “memoirs” he shares his own transgressions and acknowledges and addresses the criticisms of religion in poignant and subtle ways.Gilead is a stunning novel about life, humanity, and faith. Click To Tweet
Personally, I appreciated this and because of it, the story resonated with me in unexpected ways because it’s often difficult for me to separate religion from faith. So often, faith is set aside so that religion can be used to justify fear and hate, and Robinson (and John) reminded me that there’s a certain beauty to living a faithful life, one in which love, kindness, and acceptance are embraced while hate, mean-spiritedness, and exclusion have no place. With everything going on in the world, it was nice to be reminded that these sentiments do exist, even if we don’t hear them often enough.
It’s easy to see why Gilead won a Pulitzer. It’s a heartbreaking story that explores the most inner depths of humanity, with its full spectrum of actions and emotions. The writing style, which is informal, is comforting even when it’s difficult, and Robinson mastered a particular cadence that ebbs and flows with the story itself. There are times when John gets lost in introspection about certain people or events, and the prose itself shifts, ever so subtly, to match his emotional state.
If you had told me when I picked up Gilead that it would leave me pondering what it means to exist, I would have laughed you off. But that’s exactly what happened and John’s story and take on life and faith has me pondering things I haven’t pondered in years. With everything going on in the world, Gilead came at the perfect moment for me – it was nice to be reminded that beneath the chaos and hate, there’s a beauty and purpose to the world and our places in it.
Recommended for: Readers who appreciate books that address big questions in a subtle manner.