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The Pilgrim Hardcover – Nov 1 2011
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"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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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.
Is there anything better than discovering a new great author?
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)