Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

by Leif Enger


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802139252
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/07/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 25,191
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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.

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.

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Peace Like a River 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 244 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 8 months ago
This book will stay with me for a long while. The writer's use of language is so gifted and his humor so lovely and subtle that I was torn between reading a very good story and pausing to admire the writer's extraordinary craft. As a lifelong person with asthma and actually struggling to breathe with asthma as I read this (not the book's fault!), I deeply admired the spot-on insights into human nature. The narrator begins as an 11-year old boy with asthma and amazing self-honesty. This book was well worth an investment of my time and spirit. It was an unexpected gift!
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.
indygo88 on LibraryThing less than 1 minute ago
It seems many readers have loved this book. I liked it a lot, although not sure I loved it. It's sort of one of those bittersweet feel-good books that doesn't necessarily have a lot of action, but just reading about the family dynamics and the series of events that take place within a given space of time within the narrator's (Reuben's) life gives you a certain comfortable, cozy kind of feeling. The characterization was great -- Jeremiah Land is the father everyone wishes they had. And Swede (the narrator's younger sister) -- what a hoot she was. I didn't see the ending coming...but I don't think it detracted at all from the story. The only portions I didn't really care for were some of the the stories & legends about outlaws. It did fit with the overall story & feeling of the book, but I found myself skimming through these.
LiterateHousewife on LibraryThing less than 1 minute ago
Just over an hour into the audio book and I just couldn't believe that it hadn't been going on for double or triple that amount of time. I can't handle the author's writing. It doesn't sound right to my ear. It is terribly irritating. At 1 hour 15 minutes, I turned it off and I doubt I'll look back.
Anonymous 3 months ago
mattviews on LibraryThing 3 months ago
"Dad laughed aloud for pure delight. And someone climbed up on our porch and knocked. ... And yet so humble were our expectations for this Christmas-so glad were we simply have our dad upright and able to laugh and his stomach to growl-not even uninvited guests could quench us..." (p.127)Reuben Land reminisces on his childhood and tells this engrossing tale that is a miracle, a heroic quest, a heartbreaking tragedy, and a mesmerizing love story. Reuben's survival at birth itself is a miracle. He was born with no signs of life-no breathing-for at least ten minutes. The doctor proceeded to certify his death as his father stood praying and asked in the name of God for Reuben to breathe. Though asthmatic Reuben lives. When his dad gave up on medical school, his mom abandoned them and left for a doctor. Reuben tells how his father Jeremiah, who works as a janitor at his school, rescues his brother Davy's girlfriend Dolly from two attackers, Israel Finch and Tommy Basca, at the locker room. In revenge to Jeremiah, the repugnant pair broke into the Land's house one night and was gunned down by Davy out of self-protection. Out of mawkish grief for the boys, the ill-starred Jeremiah was fired from his job and caught tuberculosis. While state troopers and the FBI pursued Davy who broke out from jail, Reuben and his younger sister Swede took care of the house chores and their bedridden father. Salesman Tin Lurvy died of heart attack and left Jeremiah a brand new trailer, now talk about miracle. So the family set out to a cross-state search of the fugitive Davy, who seemed to have disappeared without a trace. Along the journey the family met strangers who offered more than shelter and favors.This novel reminds us of how faith and love can pull a family together and overcome the most adverse trials however formidable the situations. The book makes its debut at a crucial time when the country is in the least secure and seeks the affirmation that it can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies. As Davy clandestinely met Reuben on the hillside at the back of Roxanna's barn, the book turns a big turn toward a remarkable finale that will pinprick the heart. The book is about a boy who would sacrifice even his own life to defend his beloved family. The book is also about brotherhood-the strong tie between Davy and Reuben, who solely witnessed the break-in at the house and now corresponded with his brother behind everyone's back. I have come to appreciate this 11-year-old's affection for his family. However wrong and outrageous of a crime Davy might have committed, Reuben never stopped believing in his brother. When he paid a visit to Davy at the jail, Reuben saw something that the jailer would never ever see. He saw faith and knowledge inside of his brother. Later on outside Roxanna's ranch, even in the pre-dawn dim light, Reuben saw the black shape up on the mountain and knew it was Davy without a question. The boy also possessed an indecipherably close bonds with his father, whom Reuben proudly regarded as the smartest, kind-hearted and the most capable man anywhere, anytime; a man in whom the mighty God had found favor.Reuben mentioned how these miracles "sometimes flowed from [his] father's fingertips" and few others had witnessed them besides him. Even though I am left unresolved about Jeremiah's possession of divine nature, (how he actually walked in air and performed miracles? how he managed to remain in one piece without even a bruise after a tornado writhed him skyward and threw him off for 4 miles?) I enjoyed the reading that fills with heart-thumping, poetic and crisp prose. The book has a slow start, until the story picks up after about 100 pages or so reader's attentiveness is appreciated. This is the kind of book that slowly unravels itself, bit by bit, in order to tenderly grip the hearts of readers who might develop a sense of grief and sympathy for the ill-fated family and what tragedy it has to pull through. The author's prof
davidabrams on LibraryThing 3 months ago
By now, the coming-of-age novel is a tried-and-true convention of literature, but seldom has it been as true as what¿s on the pages of Leif Enger¿s remarkable novel Peace Like a River. Enger takes the best of writers like John Irving, Tony Earley and J.D. Salinger, then stakes his own territory to create a story about family, faith and fugitives that¿s as rich in language as it is plot. Let¿s not forget to add Harper Lee to that list as well. Peace Like a River bears more than just a passing resemblance to To Kill a Mockingbird. In both novels, parents are a deep and abiding mystery; and childhood, which once seemed to stretch forever, is marked by self-awareness and a sense of closure. End of sentence, end of chapter, end of book. Few writers are able to discuss adolescence in clear-eyed, yet rosy-nostalgia terms that will cause Grown-up Adults to nod so vigorously with recognition that their heads threaten to fall off their necks. Lee and now Enger have managed such a neat narrative trick. Take this sentence, for instance: I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers. There¿s plenty more where that came from. The novel, set in the early 1960s, is narrated by 11-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy living in a motherless family whose tender circle is about to be broken by the oldest son. When 17-year-old Davy commits a crime of passion and becomes a fugitive, Reuben, his father Jeremiah and his younger sister Swede set out from Minnesota to follow Davy¿s trail across the northern United States. As the family travels in their Airstream trailer and draws closer to Davy, events turn increasingly miraculous, fueled by the elder Land¿s belief that he¿s got a direct connection to God. Enger fills the nooks and crannies of every paragraph with Biblical language, and does so without an ounce of condescension (I mean, you¿ve got to admire someone who writes his strong smelly hands rent open the front of her sweater with a straight face). Faith and miracles crowd each page, dancing like the proverbial angels on a head of a pin. Characters literally walk on air, a pot of soup replenishes itself in loaves-and-fishes fashion, bodies are healed¿and, without spoiling too much, I can tell you that there¿s a vision of heaven so achingly beautiful that I¿m ready to buy a ticket today. Early in the story, Reuben writes: Real miracles bother people¿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 the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed¿though ignoring them will change you also. Over the course of the Land family¿s journey west, there are a lot of miracles and plenty of changes, just as we¿ve come to expect in the best of coming-of-age novels. Thanks to its sensitivity and compassion for its characters, this is the best of the best of that genre. The adults are seen at the periphery of the frame and it¿s Reuben and Swede, with their obsession for cowboys and vigilantes, who remain most clearly in focus. Peace Like a River plumbs the depths of childhood with its innocence and blurred optimism. The real strength of Enger¿s book lies in the voice of our young asthmatic guide. Reuben Land is one of the most engaging narrators¿young or old¿to take control of a book¿s pages in a long time. He¿s funny, endearing and a fierce champion for his family, no matter how wrong their actions are. When you read a sentence like Events seemed a wide water into which we¿d stepped only to be yanked downstream toward some joyful end, you¿ll feel the same way. It¿s hard not to be swept away by Enger¿s prose. At times, you can practically smell and taste the words on the page. Coated with a style that could bes
vnovak on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is faith-renewing fiction - full of hope, humor, poignancy and Christian belief.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Kiss ur hand 3 times then post this on 3 different books and look under your pillow
Anonymous 12 months ago
I throughly enjoyed this book. It’s so beautifully written and held my interest throughout.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stayed up a few nights to finish this book. I liked the style of writing and the author was very descriptive. It was a little more spiritual than books I normally read but that was okay with me, I appreciate all writing for what it is. I recommend!
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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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago