|Genre||Novel (247 pp.)|
|Keywords||Abandonment, Adolescence, Aging, Body Self-Image, Childbirth, Children, Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease, Communication, Death and Dying, Depression, Disease and Health, Empathy, Epidemics, Family Relationships, Father-Son Relationship, Freedom, Grief, Heart Disease, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Infectious Disease, Loneliness, Love, Memory, Mourning, Nature, Ordinary Life, Pain, Parenthood, Prayer as Medicine, Pregnancy, Religion, Society, Spirituality, Suffering, Survival, Time|
John Ames narrates this story in the form of a lengthy letter to his young son. Ames is a 76-year-old minister suffering from angina pectoris and heart failure. He has spent almost all of his life in Gilead, a small town in Iowa. His first wife died during childbirth along with a baby girl. Ames remarried a younger woman who is now 41. They have a son almost 7 years old.
Because Ames believes his death is close at hand, he pens a missive to the boy. Its purpose is to teach his son about all the important things in life Ames may not be around to share with him. During the course of composing the letter, Ames reflects upon his own existence. He recalls the experiences of his father and grandfather who were also ministers.
Reverend Ames likes to think, read, and pray. Born in 1880, he has lived through three wars, the Great Depression, a pandemic of influenza, and droughts. His hope is that his young son will grow into a brave and useful man.
Preacher Ames has a disease of the heart. His reaction to the ailment is notable: "It is a strange thing to feel illness and grief in the same organ" (179). The book suggests some parallels between theology and medicine as well as similarities between clergymen and doctors. Both types of professionals care for people and strive to unburden them. Doctors and ministers must be gracious, readily available, good listeners, and teachers. They are privy to sensitive secrets and the most remarkable human stories. The book also calls attention to the resemblance between writing and praying. The title of Gilead has obvious implications.
The story highlights the strength of the father-son relationship, the importance of history, and the transformative force of forgiveness. Ames's letter is also cautionary. Regret will always threaten contentment. Memory will often oppose reality. Sorrow will frequently deflect hope. The power of love and family, however, can overcome almost all obstacles.
The book points out that every town no matter how small has a history. Each community and all families have their own unique characters. Depending on one's perspective and the passage of time, these individuals emerge as heroes or oddballs (and not infrequently, both).
John Ames imbues his long letter with grace and wisdom. Consider this example of his simple yet sage advice: "There are many ways to live a good life" (3). "There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient" (243). Most readers will likely respond to Reverend Ames's advice with a resounding "Amen!"
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus & Giroux|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||This novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2004) and the Pulitzer Prize (2005).|
|Annotated by||Miksanek, Tony|
|Date of Entry||01/25/05|