Willa Cather's best known novel; a narrative that recounts a life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert.
The book presents us with several vignettes in the lives of these urbane priests, as well as some fables and Southwestern folklore. By living in harmony with God's law and the world he created, the men prosper. Eventually, they must part, and they must grow old and die. But death holds no horror for men like these who have spent their lives in service to others.
Cather's writing is beautiful and direct. In the following passage, one of the priests and his friend spend several days traveling together:
As Father Latour and Eusabio approached Albuquerque, they occasionally fell in with company; Indians going to and fro on the long winding trails across the plain, or up into the Sandia mountains. They had all of them the same quiet way of moving, whether their pace was swift or slow, and the same unobtrusive demeanor: an Indian wrapped in his bright blanket, seated upon his mule or walking beside it, moving through the pale new-budding sage-brush, winding among the sand waves, as if it were his business to pass unseen and unheard through a country awakening with spring.
North of Laguna two Zuni runners sped by them, going somewhere east on "Indian business." They saluted Eusabio by gestures with the open palm, but did not stop.Read more ›
In 1848, the church of Rome believes it is time to find a leader who will bring order to this region. Going against conventional wisdom, the leaders decide on a younger priest, Jean Marie Latour, a Frenchman currently stationed in Michigan, for the task. The first question that persists through this episodic story is, is he the right person? The book becomes a portrait of his steady cerebral yet compassionate leadership through the chaos he finds and the upheavals of an extraordinary period in history.
The movement of the book zigzags among the people, both imagined and real (Kit Carson shows up), and the land. Especially, it looks at the land as it is shaped by belief-Christian, Indian and political. Cather does an extraordinary job of creating very vivid, complex characters. She also describes the land in a way that needs no photographs or maps to build it in our minds. Her prose is elegiac and yet nearly as clean as Hemingway's.Read more ›
There isn't much of a plot for this novel. It's more of a photo album or a series of episodes about the unexplored Western United States. The reader sees what the territory of New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico were like before trains, when the desert was both a beautiful and a harsh place. And, the reader learns about the people living there, from the French Fahters sent to Chrisitanize the Indians to the Mexican and Spanish settlers to the native Indians who are untrusting of white men and still hold to their gods. And the reader sees it all through the eyes of Father Latour so we get his wonder and awe at this strange, new world into which he's been sent to spread the word of God.