Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Death Comes for the Archbishop

"Where there is great love there are always miracles," he said at length. "One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
This book might very well be the best book I read in 2012. It's lovely and lyrical. Willa Cather's great respect and admiration for the Southwest and the people who live there shines through on every page. It's not a novel in a traditional sense -  a protagonist with a problem to solve. It's more like a character study, but just as much a character study of the place as the person.
The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,--and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!
It's a magnificent book of the building of the Catholic Church in the Southwest, the missionary zeal to serve and instruct, and the great respect the Archbishop and his fellow priests had for their people. Over time, the Archbishop comes to love the New World so much that he grows uncomfortable in the Old one.
In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry "To-day, to-day," like a child's.
I am not adept at reading fiction; I always feel I am missing nearly all of the great Truths nestled within. I enjoy it anyway, especially reading one written as beautifully as this one. Each page was a pleasure to read without any hurry to "see what would happen" because frankly, very little does. Time moves differently in the novel as if, purposefully, the Archbishop is merely remembering his life in bits and pieces, relishing the greatness of the ordinary, the deep contentment of a life well lived, and a willingness to pass on to the next.

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