Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (Vintage Classics, 1927), 304 pages

Father Jean Marie Latour is appointed the Apostolic Vicar of New Mexico in 1851. The land is harsh and unforgiving, the people splintered and fractured, American by law but Mexican and Native American by culture and belief. The story follows his life.

The writing is straightforward and lovely. The contemplative style I associate with Kathleen Norris, the quietness and slowness that reminds me of Anne Tyler. However, it does not have the melancholy I associate with Tyler’s work.

The setting really shines in this book. I was reminded of my brief time in New Mexico — both the vistas and the food.

The story is compelling, the characters real. I really enjoyed this book.

A couple quotes that stood out to me:

The truth was, Jacinto liked the Bishop’s way of meeting people; thought he had the right tone with Padre Gallegos, the right tone with Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant’s, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all. He stood straight and turned to the Governor of Laguna, and his face underwent no change. Jacinto thought this remarkable.

— page 93-94, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather


‘It would be a shame to any man coming from a Seminary that is one of the architectural treasures of France, to make another ugly church on this continent where there are so many already.’

— page 242, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather; Bishop Latour speaking

This is my first exposure to Cather (that I remember, anyway). I’ve been meaning to read Cather for years now, and I’m glad I finally have. I’m looking forward to more. I visited Cather’s Nebraska hometown of Red Cloud last fall. Several of her books draw details of their setting from Red Cloud, but Death Comes for the Archbishop isn’t one of those, as far as I know.

About the author
Willa Cather (1873-1947) received a Pulitzer in 1923 for One of Ours; she authored 12 novels.

Other reviews
Books and Movies
Rebecca Reads
Worthwhile Books
The Zen Leaf

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

This book is from my personal library.

This post, being a review of a book by a Nebraska author, is part of the Literary Road Trip.

This book is also on the Image Journal list, which I’m still, slowly, working my way through.

Of the list books I’ve read, this reminds me most of Robert Morgan’s The Truest Pleasure. In that it’s about day-to-day life, of normal people, but it doesn’t move too slowly, even though not too much actually happens.

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18 responses to “Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

  1. Quiet and lovely is a perfect way to describe this book – wonderful review! It reminded me of how much I wanted to read more of Cather’s work. Thanks for linking to me. 🙂

  2. I haven’t read any of Willa Cather’s works either, but I own this book, and am looking forward to reading it someday soon. I enjoyed the quotes that you chose.

  3. I have never read anything by this author, however your review really makes me want to pick this one up and give it a try! Great review!

  4. I suspect I’d like this one since you compared it to Anne Tyler’s work.

  5. My book group read this years ago. I didn’t like it as much as the others or you did, but I enjoyed it.

  6. I’m so glad you enjoyed Cather. I read her in high school and liked her a lot but haven’t read anything of hers since. Maybe it’s time!

  7. I loved this book when I read it over thirty years ago. Your review has made me want to read it again. I love her writing. How lucky that you live in Nebraska. 😉

  8. Oh gosh, I read this a hundred years ago (like Margot), but I remember loving it. Now this, however, intrigues me: “The contemplative style I associate with Kathleen Norris, the quietness and slowness that reminds me of Anne Tyler” because I love Kathleen Norris and like Anne Tyler. Very interesting!

  9. I need to read this eventually…

  10. I love Willa Cather! I thought that the characterization in this one was very good.

  11. Pingback: Words from my reading « Word Lily

  12. I had to read your review after seeing all the words you pulled from the pages! 🙂

    This sounds like a good read!

  13. I like the excerpted parts. I’ve read a book by Cather but it’s been a long time. Good review!

  14. Glad to hear your thoughts on this one. I thoroughly enjoyed it when you loaned it to me last year.

  15. I’ve read two Cather’s books, but this one is waiting on my TBR list. From your review, I think I will really enjoy when I get around to it.

  16. I have used this book in my Human Geography classes for years. The students hate it at first, but it slowly grows on them, building to a sorry to see it end mentality.

    I also love the setting. She truly paints with words in this one.

  17. Pingback: Words from my reading « Word Lily

  18. I haven’t read any Willa Cather either, but I’m curious about her. I may check this one out.

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