Book Review: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

deathcomesTitle: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author: Willa Cather
Genre: Literary classic
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First line: One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.

In Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Father Jean Latour comes to New Mexico as a missionary vicar, along with his longtime friend and fellow missionary, Father Joseph Vaillant. Father Latour eventually becomes the Archbishop of New Mexico, while Father Joseph has a thriving missionary work in the gold rush towns of Colorado.

This book is hard to summarize, because it is more a book of short stories than a book of chapters that build on each other. Each story is an episode in the life of Father Latour, explaining his work, the land he comes to love, and the different people groups he ministers to. Cather has a gentle, lyrical style of writing, and the book is deceptively simple.

Each story told builds on the image of the majestic land of New Mexico, and the proud Navajos and Mexicans that the two priests come to love and respect. The descriptions of the land and people are gorgeous, and reading this book made me feel quiet and contemplative. Although the writing style is different, this book reminded me of the work of Wendell Berry in the deep respect shown to the land and to the people of the land.

At the heart of the book is the friendship between the two priests, the brotherly love they have for each other, and the respect they give each other in spite of their very different personalities and methods of ministry. This is a small book that will stay with me for a long time.

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18 Responses to Book Review: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

  1. JoAnn
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    Glad to hear you liked this one! We are visiting Santa Fe later this summer and I thought this might be a good book to take along. I recently read Cather’s short story, Double Birthday, and it reminded me how much I loved both O Pioneers! and My Antonia.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      JoAnn – it would be perfect reading for a trip to Santa Fe!

  2. Bonnie says:

    I tried reading this one years ago and just couldn’t get through it. From the sound of your review, I should probably give it another try, especially since I have enjoyed Cather’s other books.
    .-= Bonnie´s last blog ..Chronicles of Narnia Challenge =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Bonnie – Once I realized that this wasn’t going to be plot-driven or fast-paced, I settled into it and ending up enjoying it very much.

  3. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads
    says:

    I haven’t read this for a hundred years, but I remember loving Cather.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday (July 22) =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Beth – this was actually my first Cather – but it won’t be my last!

  4. Stacy says:

    I read this one for a book group years ago and I remember liking it , but not much else. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

  5. iliana says:

    I’ve only read one of her books and it’s been so long. I really should read another. Thanks for a great review!
    .-= iliana´s last blog ..Currently Reading =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Iliana – you’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by – and letting me know!

  6. Belle
    Twitter: msbookish
    says:

    This book sounds very lovely – great review.
    .-= Belle´s last blog ..Winner of June and July Giftaway =-.

  7. Janet says:

    I read this in an American lit class in college, and really enjoyed it. I remember it as being a very gentle, thoughtful book. Thanks for the great review.
    .-= Janet´s last blog ..Children’s devotionals =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Janet – Gentle and thoughtful are two perfect words to describe it!

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