I don’t re-read many novels, but I felt compelled to re-read Gilead after reading its companion novel, Home. I gave it 8/10 in January last year, but this time, I have recorded it as a 10/10. (Marilynne may wish to put this on the back cover of future reprints, but given she has every second reviewer around the world saying it is a masterpiece, she may not need my commendation.) And indeed, I don’t feel able to add to the wonderful reviewing and criticism already written about Gilead. It is a beautiful novel about living, dying, race and America. And faith. Here are some quotes I took from it.
“When this old sanctuary is full of silence and prayer, every book Karl Barth will ever write would not be a feather in the scales against it from the point of view of profundity, and I would not believe in Barth’s own authenticity if I did not also believe he would know and recognize the truth of that, and honor it, too.” (p.197)
You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten. I do wonder where it will end. (p.236)
But the fact is that his mind came from one set of books as surely as mine has come from another set of books. But that can’t be true. While I was at seminary I read every book he had ever mentioned and every book I thought he might have read, if I could put my hand on it and it wasn’t in German… Who knows where any mind comes from. It’s all mystery. (p.142)
– I found this particularly interesting. He’s reflecting on how his brother became an atheist while he carried on his father and grandfather’s business of being a preacher. Where does faith come from? Where does a worldview come from? To what extent is it a product of the books you read?
I believe that the old man did indeed have far too narrow an idea of what a vision might be. He may, so to speak, have been too dazzled by the great light of his experience to realize that an impressive sun shines on us all. Perhaps that is the one thing I wish to tell you. Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time…. I believe there are visions that come to us only in memory, in retrospect. (p.104)