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.
‘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.’
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.
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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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