Thursday, August 4, 2011

Death Comes For the Archbishop

Don't let the title mislead you- Death Comes For the Archbishop is not about death.  Rather, it's about the long and compelling life of one man, a French missionary in the wilds of nineteenth century New Mexico. 

Willa Cather unfurls this story with understated elegance and a feel for the quiet, harsh, sacrificial life of this humble, unassuming, cultured, compassionate priest.  Just as importantly, she paints a vivid picture of the desert, of the small settlements, of the beauty and brutality of the lives of those who came long before ski lifts in Taos and artist colonies in Santa Fe. 

Cather's greatest talents lie in crafting characters who seem to lead their own lives separate and apart from the reader, and in empowering us to understand the land as another character affecting and even dictating the arc of lives.

In this lovely, spare, measured novel, a reader comes to know Father Jean-Marie's heart, his faith, his unswerving devotion, and even his doubts.  Set against the searing, unforgiving backdrop of the sparsely populated, breathtakingly beautiful New Mexico landscape, this story lingers in both the mind and heart.

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