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The Pilgrim [Hardcover]

Hugh Nissenson

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2011
"Nissenson, acclaimed for his powerful narratives (The Days of Awe; The Tree of Life), here shows the tight grip of religious devotion on one young man's mind … History, politics, faith, and daily life all come together in a strong story."
– Library Journal

Praise for High Nissenson's The Days of Awe:

"I just finished The Days of Awe. I am too moved to move. (Even this pen.) An amazing novel. It is as if we are eavesdropping on life."
– Cynthia Ozick

"If you believe the best novels should be transformative, should rip the dusty curtains from our everyday vision; if you don't mind being terrorized by a narrative, then you'll be looking at a different world when you finish these pages."
– Carolyn See, Washington Post

"A deep affirmation of life in all its mystery and agony and joy."
– Frederick M. Dolan, author of Allegories of America

"Nissenson's haunting, deeply moral novel asks the largest questions, and with tough lyric elegance, illuminates the smallest moments. The Days of Awe is a Great Awakening elegy for all our lives even as we live them."
– Johanna Kaplan, author of 0 My America

"A Masterpiece!"
– Amos Elon, author of The Pity of It All

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (Nov. 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140220924X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402209246
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 3.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,875,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Hugh Nissenson's The "Pilgrim" is a startling, beautiful, numinous prose-poem about the founding of our country. It will surely be enshrined forever in the canon of American literature." -Johanna Kaplan, O My America!, Other People's Lives

About the Author

Hugh Nissenson is the author of eight books, including The Days of Awe. His novel The Tree of Life was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN-Faulkner Award in 1985. He lives in New York City.

Hugh Nissenson is the author of eight books, including the recent illustrated novel The Song of the Earth, which received a number of superb reviews in the New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times among others. His previous novel The Tree of Life was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pen-Faulkner Award in 1985. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deceptively simple story, simply told Nov. 23 2011
By Pam Gearhart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I looked for this book based on Maureen Corrigan's review on National Public Radio. This paragraph from the first page (Amazon's Search Inside feature) convinced me to try it:

"I shall write in a plain style and tell the truth as near as I am able. I will confess to being an accessory to the hanging of my beloved friend Zachariah Rigdale at Wessagusset, and I will include an account of my sinful life before and after it."

If you aren't tempted by that, then you're no fan of historical fiction.

Nissensen does indeed write in "a plain style". Much of it reads like a Wikipedia article, giving the straight facts of life in London and the colonies. The Wiki feel includes passages of dialogue, with characters explaining how they built a stockade and what they did for a living. That doesn't mean it's boring or pedantic. On the contrary, Nissensen manages to evoke the time and places in the story without embellishment or literary tricks. He gives us a wealth of detail but the details never bog down the story, which moves at a fast clip.

The book follows Charles Wentworth from 17th century England to the colonies. He's a divinity student, studying Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and hoping to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister. Then he's a farmer, working for his uncle, from whom he stands to inherit, and it appears he'll have an easy life. Things change, people die, and Charles is off to the colonies, seeking salvation. Through it all, Charles is a good man, but in his world, being good isn't enough -- he has to know he's right with God.

As Corrigan says in her review: "The great achievement of The Pilgrim is the way it fully transports us readers into a Puritan universe informed by the idea of predestination: a world where a decent guy like Charles is anguished every day by the mystery of whether he is saved or damned; a world I'm thankful to read about and thankful not to live in."

One thing about the book that might be off-putting is the (seeming) stilted dialogue, full of "hath" and "thy" and "alas". I found myself thinking "Did people really talk like that?" In the end, it doesn't matter. Like Corrigan, I was transported.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So many layers, so beautifully written Dec 5 2011
By Jonathan Kevles - Published on Amazon.com
"The Pilgrim" by Hugh Nissenson is a book worth not only a read, but worth many reads. The first read is inventive storytelling with beautiful, succinct prose. The second reading is an eye-opening, wonderfully detailed peek into an important sliver of first English and then US Colonial history history, in all its rawness, savagery, and courage. The third is allegory, viewing the travails of the main character as the travails of Everyman, torn between desire and duty, fate and self-determination. The fourth is spiritual, draped in the clothes of the Puritan, told through the means of confession, yet accessible to readers from all faiths, or from no particular faith except the personal. Nissenson has done it again. Wow.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Death, Dying and the New World Dec 8 2011
By Judy S. Hudson - Published on Amazon.com
I read quite a lot of historical fiction and I chose this book because it seemed to be realistic about conditions during the colonization of what we now know as New England. The book is very down to earth and, on the positive side, I now have a greater appreciation for the hazards of 15th century life. These people die from hangnails, literally, and a gruesome death it is. In addition, they worry constantly about their standing in the spiritual life and I have to admit, reading about the difficulty of just staying alive makes those worries seem much more reasonable. If you purchase this book, but prepared for the worst life has to offer, from explicit information about death penalties, filth, and living conditions, not mention buggery with sheep--they even hung the "guilty" ewe!
On another note, I live in an area with a strong Native American culture and I had also hoped this book might give a more balanced point of view--I'm not sure it does. "Indians" are pretty much portrayed as Godless savages. I am not quite through the book, so perhaps I will find that the author becomes more balanced before it's over.
(I am reading it on a Kindle, by the way)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazon is Stupid for Demanding Titles for Reviews June 4 2013
By Erik L. Simon - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Two weeks ago, while strolling the aisles of my local Barnes and Noble, I happened upon this book. I'd never heard of Nissenson before, but something compelled me to get it--perhpas Cynthia Ozick's praise for his recent novel, perhaps that he'd been nominated for an NBA back in the eighties. No matter. I could not put it down. How this old Jewish author became, so convincingly, a 17th Century Puritan, is something of a marvel. And the story is what the title says it is--that of a Pilgrim, one of the first who had to leave England and come West. I've since gone on to read two of Nissenson's other books, and I have another on order. I don't exaggerate when I say that he is one of the real masters at work now.

Is there anything better than discovering a new great author?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life inside the Pilgrim community Feb. 4 2013
By M. Grigsby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting book that puts you inside the austere, rather grim life of the people who called themselves "pilgrims" as they left their home country and religious intolerance, to move to a New World where they could worship as they pleased. When they arrived in the New World though, life was extremely difficult, between the weather, the native hostilities, and the rigidity of the Pilgrim community. This book reinforces the brutality of starting life in uncharted territory among a native population that didn't want them there. The story follows a young man who, after losing his fiance to illness, finds love again onboard the ship taking them to the new world. The love story isn't really the main focus of the book however. The story of male relationships is well done. In some ways, I felt like I was reading a book that wasn't in color, but in black and white. I often get this sensation when I read books from that time period and during the Revolutionary timeframe. I would recommend this book, particularly to those who loved "The Scarlet Letter". It was a tough time to negotiate the behaviors, morals and physical demands, and Nissenson's book does a good job of portraying that life!

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