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This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is Robinson's first work of fiction in more than 20 years. John Ames, a 76-year-old preacher who lives in Gilead, Iowa, serves as narrator of the novel. The year is 1956, and Ames, now in his second marriage, has a seven-year-old son. Through a letter addressed to the boy, he recounts his life, backtracking to include the histories of his father and grandfather. Ames also tells of the death of his first wife and child, and he weaves into his personal account newsworthy events of the times, including the First and Second World Wars and outbreaks of Spanish influenza. Over the years, he has struggled to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, an impassioned preacher who had visions and became involved in the abolitionist movement in Kansas. Ames' pacifist father, as it turns out, was at odds with the family, and a recurring theme in the novel is friction between fathers and sons. Robinson writes eloquently about that tension and about the ways in which family conflicts endure from generation to generation. Ever-present in the book are the punishing landscape and unforgiving elements that characterize the Midwest. A rich meditation on faith, the novel is an unforgettable account of one man's spiritual journey and the moments of transcendence that occur along the way.
A reading group guide is available in print and online at www.picadorusa.com.