by Marilynne Robinson


$13.60 $17.00 Save 20% Current price is $13.6, Original price is $17. You Save 20%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Thursday, September 27  Order now and choose Expedited Shipping during checkout.
    Same Day shipping in Manhattan. 
    See Details


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel
A New York Times Top-Ten Book of 2004
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
A PBS Great American Read selection

Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel "as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering." Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312424404
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 01/10/2006
Series: Gilead Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 28,271
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Marilynne Robinson is the author of the modern classic Housekeeping--winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award--and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989) and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


Iowa City, Iowa

Date of Birth:

November 26, 1943

Place of Birth:

Sandpoint, Idaho


B.A., Brown University, 1966

Read an Excerpt


By Marilynne Robinson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 Marilynne Robinson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-15389-2

Chapter One

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren't very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've had with me and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don't laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother's. It's a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I'm always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsigned after I've suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.

It seems ridiculous to suppose the dead miss anything. If you're a grown man when you read this-it is my intention for this letter that you will read it then-I'll have been gone a long time. I'll know most of what there is to know about being dead, but I'll probably keep it to myself. That seems to be the way of things.

I don't know how many times people have asked me what death is like, sometimes when they were only an hour or two from finding out for themselves. Even when I was a very young man, people as old as I am now would ask me, hold on to my hands and look into my eyes with their old milky eyes, as if they knew I knew and they were going to make me tell them. I used to say it was like going home. We have no home in this world, I used to say, and then I'd walk back up the road to this old place and make myself a pot of coffee and a friend-egg sandwich and listen to the radio, when I got one, in the dark as often as not. Do you remember this house? I think you must, a little. I grew up in parsonages. I've lived in this one most of my life, and I've visited in a good many others, because my father's friends and most of our relatives also lived in parsonages. And when I thought about it in those days, which wasn't too often, I thought this was the worst of them all, the draftiest and the dreariest. Well, that was my state of mind at the time. It's a perfectly good old house, but I was all alone in it then. And that made it seem strange to me. I didn't feel very much at home in the world, that was a face. Now I do.

And now they say my heart is failing. The doctor used the term "angina pectoris," which has a theological sound, like misericordia. Well, you expect these things at my age. My father died an old man, but his sisters didn't live very long, really. So I can only be grateful. I do regret that I have almost nothing to leave you and your mother. A few old books no one else would want. I never made any money to speak of, and I never paid any attention to the money I had. It was the furthest thing from my mind that I'd be leaving a wife and child, believe me. I'd have been a better father if I'd known. I'd have set something by for you.

That is the main thing I want to tell you, that I regret very deeply the hard times I know you and your mother must have gone through, with no real help from me at all, except my prayers, and I pray all the time. I did while I lived, and I do now, too, if that is how things are in the next life.

I can hear you talking with your mother, you asking, she answering. It's not the words I hear, just the sounds of your voices. You don't like to go to sleep, and every night she has to sort of talk you into it all over again. I never hear her sing except at night, from the next room, when she's coaxing you to sleep. And then I can't make out what song it is she's singing. Her voice is very low. It sounds beautiful to me, but she laughs when I say that.

I really can't tell what's beautiful anymore. I passed two young fellows on the street the other day. I know who they are, they work at the garage. They're not churchgoing, either one of them, just decent rascally young fellows who have to be joking all the time, and there they were, propped against the garage wall in the sunshine, lighting up their cigarettes. They're always so black with grease and so strong with gasoline I don't know why they don't catch fire themselves. They were passing remarks back and forth the way they do and laughing that wicked way they have. And it seemed beautiful to me. It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it. I see that in church often enough. So I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.

When hey saw me coming, of course the joking stopped, but I could see they were still laughing to themselves, thinking what the old preacher almost heard the say.

I felt like telling them, I appreciate a joke as much as anybody. There have been many occasions in my life when I have wanted to say that. But it's not a thing people are willing to accept. They want you to be a little bit apart. I felt like saying, I'm a dying man, and I won't have so many more occasions to laugh, in this world at least. But that would just make them serious and polite, I suppose. I'm keeping my condition a secret as long as I can. For a dying man I feel pretty good, and that is a blessing. Of course your mother knows about it. She said if I feel good, maybe the doctor is wrong. But at my age there's a limit to how wrong he can be.

That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect a find it, either.


Excerpted from GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson Copyright © 2004 by Marilynne Robinson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What was your perception of the narrator in the opening paragraphs? In what ways did your understanding of him change throughout the novel? Did John's own perception of his life seem to evolve as well?

2. Biblical references to Gilead (a region near the Jordan River) describe its plants as having healing properties. The African-American spiritual "There Is a Balm in Gilead" equates Jesus with this balm. According to some sources, the Hebrew origin of the word simply means "rocky area." Do these facts make Gilead an ironic or symbolically accurate title for the novel?

3. The vision experienced by John's grandfather is a reminder that the Christ he loves identifies utterly with the oppressed and afflicted, whom he must therefore help to free. He is given his mission, like a biblical prophet. This kind of vision was reported by many abolitionists, and they acted upon it as he did. What guides John in discerning his own mission?

4. How does John seem to feel about his brother's atheism in retrospect? What accounts for Edward's departure from the church? What enabled John to retain his faith?

5. The rituals of communion and baptism provide many significant images throughout the novel. What varied meanings do John and his parishioners ascribe to them? What makes him courageous enough to see the sacred in every aspect of life?

6. One of the most complex questions for John to address is the notion of salvation, how it is defined, and how (or whether) God determines who receives it. How do the novel's characters convey assorted possibilities about this topic? What answers would you have given to the questions John faces regarding the fate of souls and the nature of pain in the world?

7. Marilynne Robinson included several quotations from scripture and hymns; John expresses particular admiration for Isaac Watts, an eighteenth-century English minister whose hymns were widely adopted by various Protestant denominations. Do you believe that certain texts are divinely inspired? What is the role of metaphor in communicating about spiritual matters?

8. Discuss the literary devices used in this novel, such as its epistolary format, John's finely honed voice, and the absence of conventional chapter breaks (save for a long pause before Jack's marriage is revealed). How would you characterize Gilead's narrative structure?

9. What commentary does John offer about the differences between his two wives? Do you agree with Jack when he calls John's marriage unconventional?

10. John describes numerous denominations in his community, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, and Congregationalists. What can you infer from the presence of such variety? Or does the prevalence of Protestants mean that there is little religious variety in Gilead?

11. What might John think of current religious controversies in America? In what ways are his worries and joys relevant to twenty-first-century life?

12. John grapples mightily with his distrust of Jack. Do you believe John writes honestly about the nature of that distrust? What issues contribute to these struggles with his namesake?

13. Discuss the author's choice of setting for Gilead. Is there a difference between the way religion manifests itself in small towns versus urban locales? What did you discover about the history of Iowa's rural communities and about the strain of radicalism in Midwestern history? Did it surprise you?

14. Abolition drew John's grandfather to the Midwest, and the novel concludes at the dawn of the civil rights movement. In what ways does this evolution of race relations mirror the changes John has witnessed in society as a whole?

15. Is Gilead a microcosm for American society in general?

16. In his closing lines, John offers a sort of benediction to his son, praying that he will "grow up a brave man in a brave country" and "find a way to be useful." Do you predict a future in which his hope came true? What do you imagine John experiences in his final sleep?
17. Robinson's beloved debut novel, Housekeeping, features a narrator with a voice just as distinctive as John's. Do the longings conveyed in Housekeeping and Gilead bear any resemblance to one another? How might John have counseled Ruth?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Gilead 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 112 reviews.
MarcusBrody More than 1 year ago
Marilynne Robinson is at times a beautiful writer, but this novel is not a showcase for her talents. Many other readers have commented on the absence of plot, which in and of itself is not a mortal literary sin. But when enveloped in a series of platitudes that rarely, if ever, manage to transcend the mundane nature of the narrator (a surprisingly self-absorbed Congregationalist preacher named John Ames) it becomes virtually intolerable. It might have worked as a series of loosely-connected meditations, but like the good Rev. Ames himself they remain stubbornly humdrum, almost banal. There's a sense throughout the book that Robinson could not quite figure out what kind of person she wanted Rev. Ames to be - he is, at various turns in the narrative, defiant, judgmental, contrite, and resigned. Alas, these oscillations do not make for a complex character, just an inconsistent one. There are many, many passages where the Rev. Ames's voice (which is otherwise one of the few unifying elements) drops away completely, so that it feels as though you're reading a theological lecture by Robinson herself. And yet there's a surprisingly noncommittal nature to those ruminations - everything boils down to "maybe, maybe not" (at one point Rev. Ames muses that, "My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature."). I heard many similar comments over bong hits in college, and they were not more penetrating that Robinson's. I say this all out of a profound sense of disappointment, as Robinson is clearly a gifted writer. And she isn't afraid to delve into history or religion. This effort, unfortunately, comes up short. With more discipline, and a bit of attention to storytelling fundamentals, this might have been a remarkable, even transcendent book. I would not recommend this book, except possibly as an effective sleep balm.
Baochi More than 1 year ago
A few years ago, I bought a used copy of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and I aim to read most - if not all - Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners through the ages. However, I was in no hurry to read Gilead based on its synopsis. The combination of a seventy-something protagonist, an obscure town setting, and a religious theme just didn't sound like the page-turning story that I confess I'm always looking to read. Eventually, I had the good sense (or dumb luck) to pack Gilead alongside several other books for a solo vacation a couple of years ago. I love when my negative assumptions are completely upended, and the object of my assumption is revealed in beautiful truth. That's exactly what happened with Gilead. What I thought would be a boring novel turned out to be a profoundly transforming one. The story is narrated by minister John Ames, who is seventy-six and dying. As a gift to his seven year-old son, John shares his meditations on life, love, family, friendship and forgiveness. He describes three generations of Ames men, the misunderstandings between them, their love. Whether John is pondering a moment or a lifetime, he is never far from its spiritual significance. Those soulful musings - rather than coming off as preachy or unwelcome or scriptural - are delivered gently, simply. The prose is spare yet arresting and beautiful. Gilead is an experience.and yes, a spiritual one I am grateful for.
JS-in-KS More than 1 year ago
An impatient, cursory reading of this book may not yield its treasures. (Bookwormiam seems to have given such a reading. The pastor most certainly does forgive his wayward namesake. And he proves that he is not too old to see his wrong assumptions and change his mind and heart.) But for those willing to settle in and let the details seep in, there is quiet wisdom and unassuming beauty. One of the few books I've ever read which, as soon as I'd completed it, turned back and began to read it through again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gilead's premise is a letter from an elderly father to his young son. A batchelor until he married late in life, and a new father in his 70s, the father writes to his son, in lieu of being present when the son grows up. Robinson gradually reveals the father's deep gratitude for becoming a father and tender love for his son and wife. As a long-time minister, the son and grandson of ministers, the father naturally writes to the boy of faith, his insights into pastoring a small town flock and Christianity. In addition, the plot very slowly unfolds (but it's worth waiting for) detailing the lives of his lifelong friends and neighbors, their family's history, and how the two families have become so intertwined. Be sure and read the companion book, Home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually love pulitzer prize winners. I enjoy reading books where the literary perfection inspires me. Even more, I love reading books where I am left afterwards feeling moved. After I finished this book I felt nothing. However, this book is beautiful in the way it's written, but that wasn't enough for me. I found it boring. I really struggled through it and found I had to force myself to read every page. I hate starting books and not finishing them and the goal of simply getting to the last page is about the only reason I continued reading. There is no plot, no development of characters, and I found myself skeptical of most of the historical references. All around, I just was disappointed with this pulitzer prize winner. I didn't feel it deserved the honor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books in my lifetime, but rarely have I become so completely immersed in a work of prose that I literally had to take time to breathe. Gilead is one of the best-written, most poignant journeys into the human heart and mind that I have ever read. If it is indeed rare to find a book that leaves a permanent etch upon our minds and lives and changes how we live, then Gilead is the rarest of jewels, multifaceted and deep, and unshakeable in both its permanence and its humanity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favoriets
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book on a sunny sunday in one go. i couldnt put it down. it reminded me a lot of my own father, an evangelical minister, and his love for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Totally not what I expected. It is very captivating and you get involved with the story. It shows and reveals the heart of a father and the love he has for his son. A great story!!!
Anonymous 12 months ago
Beautifully written. Digested in small bites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reveals the complexity of trying to live a Christ-like life daily in a real world. Pam Rivers, Marriage & Family Therapist and Christian for 56 years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved Lila but this is not interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
nausetsunriseKR More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what I was expecting. However, this reads like a journal that is written with the intention of being read by someone else. Since it is supposed to be a letter, I guess the reading by someone else isn't surprising. The book is slow. It doesn't tell the whole of any particular story. It is a guy dying and just kind of coming to terms with that. There are a few lines that are great writing. I read this for a book group, and otherwise wouldn't have finished it. And, it doesn't really end, per se.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring, pointless and repetitive
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
UntomyLordDavid More than 1 year ago
You will not waste your time reading this book. It's a beautiful and lovely hymn to life from the perspective of a man whose life's work was to proclaim the Lord of Life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't tell what this book wanted to be.  It was beautifully written, but spent so much (well, all) of its time in the narrator's head, it became difficult to follow at times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kcjones More than 1 year ago
Robinson's Gilead is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. One can find a memorable passage on each page. The book is not fast-paced, but it is filled with wisdom and an understanding of the human spirit. As the main character faces his own mortality, he also struggles to understand and be honest about his own shortcomings. This is a story about family, love, forgiveness, and the vast chasms that can occur between fathers and sons. It was a book club selection for our group, and we had a lively discussion about betrayal, predestination, faith, and forgiveness.