Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Death Comes for the Archbishop

I read this book some years ago and it didn't exactly reel me in at the time. But I picked it up again on a recent trip to New Mexico and really loved it the second time around. Perhaps it was because I was seeing the harsh desert landscape Will Cather describes so beautifully and learning about the history that serves as a backdrop to this novel. We even visited the San Miguel Mission where the real bishop lived and the dramatic cathedral that was his legacy. I guess having those visuals so fresh in my mind helped me "get" this book a little better.

There's not much of a plot to Death Comes for the Archbishop, which may be what I was looking for the first time I read it. Cheri described it really well it in her Top 10 post as "a stack of paintings, showing the same subjects (person and landscape) in different moods, lighting, times." It's just a quiet portrait of a truly amazing place and a good man who does the best he can with the difficult task he's given – to reform the fractured and corrupt diocese and reinvigorate the faith among the Mexicans and Native Americans who occupy the New Mexican territory.

I appreciated the respect with which she wrote about the native cultures, her sympathetic characters, and her wonderful descriptions of the desert landscape. But what I loved most in this re-reading was the way Cather's simple, matter-of-fact style and the vast, epic setting gave me a feeling of serenity. That feeling is what made it such a pleasure to read.


Blogger Cheri said...

Yes. You nailed it, Lisa. What makes Cather's works root themselves in you is the serenity that runs through all her writing like a deep and quiet river.


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