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Book Review: Gilead

Written by Marilynne Robinson | Reviewed by Barbara McCall

I have a treat for all Presbyterians! A Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by a Calvinist! Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Gilead is the first-person account of the life of Reverend John Ames, a Congregational minister living in a fictional small Iowa town in the 1956. Writing is an act of prayer for Rev. Ames. He has spent his entire life writing sermons that are now neatly piled in boxes in the attic, fifty years of disclosing his innermost life. But now he takes up his pen for a different purpose.

Having been advised by his physician that his health is failing, a fact confirmed by his deteriorating physical condition, he sets out to write a letter to his 7-year-old son. He understands that his son will likely grow to manhood in poverty and without a father-figure in his life. His love letter begins gently, “I told you last night that I might be gone sometime ….”

Beyond outlining the boy’s “begats”, Rev. Ames reveals his thoughts on his own life and experiences. He shares thoughts he feels will be helpful to his son as he matures. The Reverend speaks of his faith. He recounts his life’s joys and hardships and confesses his own failings. This is his last testimony.

Gilead is a remarkably tender journey into the heart of a man of faith. Rev. Ames believes that there is a reality in the act of giving a blessing and I agree. This book has blessed my life and I believe will do the same for yours.

Gilead is the first in a series of four novels that revolve around a common group of characters. The titles are Gilead (2004), Home (2008), Lila (2014) and most recently Jack (2020). Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. Marilynn Robinson currently resides in Iowa City, Iowa and will soon be 80 years old.

Barbara McCall

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