In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson introduces readers to John Ames, a minister in small-town Iowa who is approaching the end of his life.

The story is composed as one long letter to his young son — to be left behind so Ames can pass along his wisdom and memories after he’s gone. In spare, elegant language, he details the tragic and miraculous moments in his life and ruminates on the nature of god and humanity.

Written as both the earnest confession of a dying man and a tribute to the beauty of everyday life, Gilead is a quiet, impeccably written novel.

“I walked up to the church in the dark, as I said. There was a very bright moon. It’s strange how you never quite get used to the world at night. I have seen moonlight strong enough to cast shadows any number of times. And the wind is the same wind, rustling the same leaves, night or day. When I was a young boy I used to get up before every dawn of the world to fetch water and firewood. It was a very different life then. I remember walking out into the dark and feeling as if the dark were a great, cool sea and the houses and the sheds and the woods were all adrift in it, just about to ease off their moorings. I always felt like an intruder then, and I still do, as if the darkness had a claim on everything, one that I violated just by stepping out my door. This morning the world by moonlight seemed to be an immemorial acquaintance I had always meant to befriend.”

Marilynne Robinson is an American essayist and novelist. Her novels include Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, and Lila, and her nonfiction works include When I Was a Child I Read Books, The Death of Adam, and The Givenness of Things. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Humanities Medal, and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, among other honors.

Published: 2004
Length: 267 pages
Set in: Iowa, United States