My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It has been a long time since I've read a book that touched me so deeply and profoundly as this beautifully written book has done. Rarely does one find a book so well written in such a thought provoking narrative prose. The imagery in this book would stay with me as I went about my daily activities.
The themes of the book caused me to reflect on the great importance of embracing the simple beauty of the Christian faith when it is lived out in a humble way by those who attempt to act "from faithfulness to the truth" as they see it. Some of the themes that I saw were: visions, baptism, communion of the Saints, forgiveness, war, race, ageism, parenting, the Prodigal, loneliness, history, and faith.
The narrator, John Ames, an elderly preacher dying from heart disease, tells his story by writing a missal of sorts to his young son. He says, "For me writing has always felt like praying..." Certainly, reading the book, I felt as if I were reading his prayers as John Ames struggled with his own humanness, his lack of faith, his faith, his struggles with forgiveness, and his need to understand the past and leave a story of what that past meant to him for his son to read. He is committed to "Trying to say what was true." He also is trying to make peace with himself and his lack of forgiveness and understanding. He is bothered by his heart that keeps acting up and leaves him feeling old and tired. He expresses his desire to die with a quiet heart. In the end, I believe he did.
Gilead is about the past. It is about a family caught up in abolition. It is about how a pastor, a church, and community comes to terms with war; in this case, the Civil War. He speaks of how one generation does not embrace the struggles and visions of the generation preceding it, and acknowledges "we live in the ruins of lives of the other generations.
Gilead is a rich narrative. The story is one stays with the reader. It is about a bygone era. It is about the times of our grandparents and great-grandparents. It is how they connected to their times, their land, and their faith. I felt at times as if I were reading my own family history since my great-grandfather who lived in Iowa served in the civil war. It is also about how those who remembered those times tried to understand and adapt to the times just after World War II.
Community, and connections between long time friends is an important part of the story. I loved the simplicity of the story, and yet the construction of the literary aspects of the book were quite complex and satisfying to ponder.
Gilead, according to Wikipedia, says the biblical meaning of Gilead "means hill of testimony or mound of witness." This image is seen throughout the book as John Ames connects the land to people, and people to their faith.
I will revisit this book. I will read it again. I know there is much more I can learn from this book.
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