"Death Comes For The Archbishop"

Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

It took a bit of determination for me to get interested in this story but in the end, Willa Cather's writing got to me again. This is the fourth of her novels I've read. I loved "My Antonia" but was less enthusiastic about "The Professor's House" and "Song Of The Lark". Those two plots didn't appeal to me but the writing made up for it. She has a way of saying things that is simple and clear and that makes it possible to get concepts fully across with a minimum of words, a skill I admire a lot and that makes her books a joy to read.

The same way that Cather was able to bring the land alive almost as a character of it's own in "My Antonia", she made the desert dust and heat of New Mexico so real and vibrant it will be what stays with me most from this book. It's not a climate or culture that held any real fascination for me, but I look at it differently after reading this. It left me feeling I'd just visited a place I could come to love once I breathed it's air.

The central figure in the story is Father Jean Latour. Raised and educated in France with his good friend Joseph Vaillant, both went into the Catholic Priesthood and followed their callings to various locations until they were sent to America. The story of establishing missions among the Spanish and the Indians is filled with hardship and beauty, celebration and heartbreak. It was a difficult and sometimes lonely life, often lived under what seemed like impossible circumstances, but the wholehearted devotion of these two men to their God and their people is inspiring.

This is not an easy book to slot into a particular genre. It's a quiet, gentle story with lots of American southwest history and culture, and it's beautifully written. It's not a mystery or a romance or a page-turner in any way, but it is a most satisfying read and one I can recommend. 


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