Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

4.1 233
by Leif Enger

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Leif Enger's rhapsodic novel about a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota is a breathtaking celebration of family, faith, and America's pioneering spirit. Through the voice of eleven-year-old Reuben, an asthmatic boy obsessed with cowboy stories, Peace Like a River tells of the Land family's cross-country search for Reuben's outlaw older brother,

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Leif Enger's rhapsodic novel about a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota is a breathtaking celebration of family, faith, and America's pioneering spirit. Through the voice of eleven-year-old Reuben, an asthmatic boy obsessed with cowboy stories, Peace Like a River tells of the Land family's cross-country search for Reuben's outlaw older brother, who has been controversially charged with murder. Sprinkled with playful and warmhearted nods to biblical tales, classic American novels such as Huckleberry Finn, the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Westerns of Zane Grey, Peace Like a River brilliantly incorporates the best elements of all these genres and ultimately earns its own prominent and enduring place on the shelf among them. Reuben Land was born with no air in his lungs, and it was only when his father, Jeremiah, picked him up and commanded him to breathe that his lungs filled. Reuben struggles with debilitating asthma thenceforth, but he is a boy who knows firsthand that life is a gift, and also one who suspects that his father can overturn the laws of nature. When Reuben's older brother, Davy, kills two marauders who have come to harm the family, the town is divided between those who see him as a hero and those who see him as a cold-blooded murderer. On the morning of the trial, Davy escapes from his cell, and when his family finds out they decide to go forth into the unknown in search of him. With Jeremiah -- whose faith is the stuff of legend -- at the helm, the family covers territory far more glorious than even the Badlands, where they search for Davy from their Airstream trailer. By the time the journey is over, they will have traversed boundaries of a different nature entirely. Marked by a soul-expanding sense of place and a love of storytelling, Peace Like a River is at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, a romance, and a heartfelt meditation on the possibility of magic in the everyday world.

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Editorial Reviews
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Once in a great while, we encounter a novel in our voluminous reading that begs to be read aloud. Leif Enger's debut, Peace Like a River, is one such work. His richly evocative novel, narrated by an asthmatic 11-year-old named Reuben Land, is the story of Reuben's unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah -- a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles -- and Reuben's little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.

Affecting and dynamic, Peace Like a River is at once a tragedy, a romance, and an unflagging exploration into the spirituality and magic possible in the everyday world, and in that of the world awaiting us on the other side of life. In Enger's superb debut effort, we witness a wondrous celebration of family, faith, and spirit, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long, long time -- and the birth of a classic work of literature. (Fall 2001 Selection)

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.04(d)
900L (what's this?)

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Chapter 1


From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with-given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor's hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way.

When I was born to Helen and Jeremiah Land, in 1951, my lungs refused to kick in.

My father wasn't in the delivery room or even in the building; the halls of Wilson Hospital were close and short, and Dad had gone out to pace in the damp September wind. He was praying, rounding the block for the fifth time, when the air quickened. He opened his eyes and discovered he was running -- sprinting across the grass toward the door.

"How'd you know?" I adored this story, made him tell it all the time.

"God told me you were in trouble."

"Out loud? Did you hear Him?"

"Nope, not out loud. But He made me run, Reuben. I guess I figured it out on the way."

I had, in fact, been delivered some minutes before. My mother was dazed, propped against soggy pillows, unable to comprehend what Dr. Animas Nokes was telling her.

"He still isn't breathing, Mrs. Land."

"Give him to me!"

To this day I'm glad Dr. Nokes did not hand me over on demand. Tired as my mother was, who knows when she would've noticed? Instead he laid me down and rubbed me hard with a towel. He pounded my back; he rolled me over and massaged my chest. He breathed air into my mouth and nose -- my chest rose, fell with a raspy whine, stayed fallen. Years later Dr. Nokes would tell my brother Davy that my delivery still disturbed his sleep. He'd never seen a child with such swampy lungs.

When Dad skidded into the room, Dr. Nokes was sitting on the side of the bed holding my mother's hand. She was wailing -- I picture her as an old woman here, which is funny, since I was never to see her as one -- and old Nokes was attempting to ease her grief. It was unavoidable, he was saying; nothing could be done; perhaps it was for the best.

I was lying uncovered on a metal table across the room.

Dad lifted me gently. I was very clean from all that rubbing, and I was gray and beginning to cool. A little clay boy is what I was.

"Breathe," Dad said.

I lay in his arms.

Dr. Nokes said, "Jeremiah, it has been twelve minutes."

"Breathe!" The picture I see is of Dad, brown hair short and wild, giving this order as if he expected nothing but obedience.

Dr. Nokes approached him. "Jeremiah. There would be brain damage now. His lungs can't fill."

Dad leaned down, laid me back on the table, took off his jacket and wrapped me in it -- a black canvas jacket with a quilted lining, I have it still. He left my face uncovered.

"Sometimes," said Dr. Nokes, "there is something unworkable in one of the organs. A ventricle that won't pump correctly. A liver that poisons the blood." Dr. Nokes was a kindly and reasonable man. "Lungs that can't expand to take in air. In these cases," said Dr. Nokes, "we must trust in the Almighty to do what is best." At which Dad stepped across and smote Dr. Nokes with a right hand, so that the doctor went down and lay on his side with his pupils unfocused. As Mother cried out, Dad turned back to me, a clay child wrapped in a canvas coat, and said in a normal voice, "Reuben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe."

The truth is, I didn't think much on this until a dozen years later -- beyond, of course, savoring the fact that I'd begun life in a dangerous and thus romantic manner. When you are seven years old there's nothing as lovely and tragic as telling your friends you were just about dead once. It made Dad my hero, as you might expect, won him my forgiveness for anything that he might do forever; but until later events it didn't occur to me to wonder just why I was allowed, after all, to breathe and keep breathing.

The answer, it seems to me now, lies in the miracles.

Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week-a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards. I'm sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.

Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave -- now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of earth.

My sister, Swede, who often sees to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed -- though ignoring them will change you also. Swede said another thing, too, and it rang in me like a bell: No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here's what I saw. Here's how it went. Make of it what you will.

The fact is, the miracles that sometimes flowed from my father's fingertips had few witnesses but me. Yes, enough people saw enough strange things that Dad became the subject of a kind of misspoken folklore in our town, but most ignored the miracles as they ignored Dad himself.

I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing but more like the swing of a sword.

If he were here to begin the account, I believe Dad would say what he said to Swede and me on the worst night of all our lives:

We and the world, my children, will always be at war.

Retreat is impossible.

Arm yourselves.

© 2001 Leif Enger. All rights reserved.

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What People are saying about this

Rick Bass
Not since Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain…have I been so engrossed in the reading of a book…and in a story told so beautifully…. In the reading of it, we cross into amazing territory.

Meet the Author

Leif Enger was raised in Osakis, Minnesota, and worked as a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio for nearly twenty years. He lives on a farm in Minnesota with his wife and two sons.

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Peace Like a River 4.1 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 233 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My AP English class had to read this book, and the entire class absolutely loved it. The characters are extremely realistic, likeable, and enjoyable. The book mixes an adventureous tale of a boy with the heart felt loss of a family. There is also great symbolism and humor. I highly reccomend it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I think of miracles, I think of biblical stories and getting out of difficult situations against overwhelming odds. A small miracle to me is receiving an undeserved A on a test because the teacher decides to grade on a curve. Another is making it to the bus on time despite oversleeping. For the Land family in Peace Like A River the miracles are much greater. Miracles occur throughout the adventures in this novel by Leif Enger. From an early age, Reuben Land watches his father Jeremiah, perform miracles as if they were normal. The very first miracle took place when Reuben, who is born breathless, is healed by his father. ¿Reuben Land in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe.¿ At the moment, Reuben fills his lungs with air and survives. Although he survives, Reuben is tormented by asthma. Still, Reuben is grateful to be breathing at all, and decides that his life is by his father¿s side. There are other miracles that Jeremiah Land performs. He walks on air, and even heals Reuben¿s school superintendent by touching his diseased face. Unfortunately, miracles are sometimes illusive when the Land family needs them the most. When Jeremiah breaks up a horrible fight in the locker room, the furious boys swear revenge on the Land family. The thugs break into the Land¿s house one night and Davy, Reuben¿s older brother, shoots them to death. At first the public believes that Davy is a hero dispensing old-fashioned justice with his shotgun. Eventually, the public decides that Davy was a brutal criminal who lures the hoodlums to his house with the intent to kill them. Davy is arrested and put in jail, but eventually breaks out and starts his life on the run. FBI agents arrive at the Land¿s house, and Jeremiah decides that it is time to take his children out of school and go wandering the country, following ¿signs¿ of God in search for Davy. While on their search, the Lands meet a friendly stranger, Roxanna, a widow and gas station owner. She has a personality that makes the Land family feel whole again. Occasionally the story feels like a folktale or a country western ballad mixed with complex grammar and expressions. There is also consistent talk of God and miracles. Fortunately, Reuben being no miracle worker himself, and making many mistakes along his journey, makes the story more believable. Peace Like A River is a story of family love, religious faith, and the huge amount of effort and trust required for both. Leif Enger¿s first novel is an amazing piece of writing and should be shared with anyone who wants to read about an amazing adventure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Entire Bookclub loved it. So heart warming and rich in the language and ideals. What we need to hear more about today. Well written, and always moving. Character development is continuous, and you feel like you are present in every situation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story is wonderful, the characters full and earn your heart...but what I really love about this book is the language. My husband rarely reads, but I kept saying to him, 'Listen to this!' and I would read aloud a description or a conversation. The author has a true gift of words...he will create amazing images in your mind. This is a book I will read again and again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great characters that you love and relate to. At some (really, only some) points the narrative was awkward and clunky.
irlandskisoprano More than 1 year ago
This is a family with simple characters, beautifully drawn. There is intelligence and humor and simplicity and joy. These are honest people who are struggling, but have the profound gifts of love, and joy and words. They fiercely care about each other and will go to any lengths to prove it. There is elegance in the prose, there is laughter and you care so much about them. The sister is a hoot. The use of the Western style melodrama of her poetry is hilarious and yet foreboding. The voice of the 11 year old narator is realistic about who he is, what he can and cannot do, and tells the story in such an assessible manner. You feel the cold, smell the coffee, worry about his breathing. You love this family. You will love this book.
TheMockingbird More than 1 year ago
This book made me remember what I loved about reading. Peace Like A River is an adventure like going down a river rapids. Swede reminds me of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. If you do nothing else this year, read Leif Enger's first novel.
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AndiC007 More than 1 year ago
One of my very favorites! It's been awhile since I've last read, but it's one of maybe 3-4 books that I've read and re-read. Three times i think. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never get tired of re-reading this book. A friend recommended it to me and I pick it up every couple of years and re-read it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been looking for 10 years to find a book I enjoy more than this, and have not found one. Do yourself a huge favor and read it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book a lot. It really got me hooked on the first page when it talks about how Ruben was born, and from that point on I couldn't put the book down. Even though it was one of the books required for summer reading I would have read it on my own time. Great read! :D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting and exciting from beginning to end. I would recommend it to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been an avid reader for 30 years and Peace Like A River is among my top 10. It's about love, it's about perseverance and it's about to make me cry just thinking about it.
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patio14 More than 1 year ago
Felt very connected with the characters. It had an emotional ending for me. Best i have read in a while.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most incredible books I have read in a ling long time.