I loved "My Antonia" when I read it then "O Pioneers!" and DCftA did not disappoint. Cather's writing has not failed to delight.
The book is a third-person narration of the life of two French priests who serve as missionaries in New Mexico around the time of the Gadsden purchase, one as a bishop and the other as his vicar. It tells their experience of setting up missions, re-establishing Catholicism after the European model, and working among the people: the Mexicans and the Indians (Navajo, Hopi, Comanche, etc.)
One could read this book as a series of short stories, rather than as a more contemporary work of fiction. The novel is divided into books, and each book could stand alone. Cather has some lovely, very understated insight into religion, the life of faith (including the dark night of the soul, although she doesn't call it that), into slavery, and other such American institutions. These she explores in an understated way through the eyes of the Roman Catholic French men. Her descriptions of their Marian devotion are particularly moving.
I read this for the Book Riot 2017 challenge; we were to read a book written between 1900 and 1950. Given that, it's hardly surprising that this book fails Bechdel, Latif and Duvernay spectacularly. The primary conversations we hear are either between the men, or focused on one of the male characters. Never do two named women speak to each other about anything. There are some poignant scenes with female characters, but these also involve one of the men. As for Latif and Duvernay, none of the non-European characters have fully realized lives. This is particularly the case for the Indians with whom the French priest interact. They are clearly invaluable, but Cather leaves them mostly opaque, especially in their dealings with the French men. And we never see their dealings with one another. While there are more than two named characters of color, and they are not romantically involved with one another, they never have dialogue, and their actions are always in support of the French priests.
Ultimately, the book was not to my taste, not because it failed the Bechdel, Latif,and Duvernay tests, but because Cather's spare prose failed to move me. That's a matter of taste, and not a critique of the book as a work of art. For what it is, a novel written in the 1920s about the American takeover of a large portion of Mexico and two missionary priests, it does its job. However, unlike the prose of Zora Neale Hurston, I find myself caring less about these characters than perhaps I should, as a fellow clergy person.
This book was an excellent companion on a trip to Santa Fe. The descriptions of the landscape and the outline of history were a perfect introduction to the region. The writing is beautiful.
This book was a struggle to read at times but I felt privy to a part of something very sacred. I have a newfound appreciation for religions and what they mean to different cultures, presented in this book, whether it be Catholic or Navajo. I didn't know who Kit Carson was until now, but had to chuckle as it was the fake name I gave myself to a pushy credit card company rep at an auto show.
A wondrous work: powerful, tender, insightful, essential. Its hard to think of a words to describe its superlativeness.
The story of Bishop Jean Marie Latour is for anyone who's adventured to a foreign land and then stayed long enough to call it home.
To fully appreciate Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, a gorgeous classic that's as richly textured as a New Mexican sky, I highly recommend some historical pre-reading for context. I'd start with an overview of New Mexico's history during the 19th century, with a specific focus on the events leading up to the Mexico Cession of 1848. This should give the unfamiliar reader a basic foundation of what life was like across this sparse frontier. Keep in mind the Territory of New Mexico was a vast mountainous/desert expanse where Santa Fe, a mere mud village at the time, was the largest city of the North American West for centuries. Further reading could include topics such as a history of Santa Fe, religions of the southwest and a familiarity with the American Indian tribes throughout the region.
This fantastic work is a powerful statement of nature's impact on a person's development. A masterfully written novel that has it all: magnificent prose, adventure. Highly recommended
Beautiful and memorable stories and descriptions are a hallmark of Cather's books. You can feel the settings in your bones, and her characters are well developed.
Beautifully subtle. A lost world. Goes well with "Blood and Thunder" by Hampton Sides which is a non-fiction account of Kit Carson and this historical time period.
mayog thinks this title is suitable for 8 years and over
I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.
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