I’m not sure how this book made it’s way to my reader. I know that when I read My Ántonia by Willa Cather, back when I was in school, I thought so little of it that I honestly have no memory of what the story is about, just that it was on our reading list.
I needed something to read. I had finished The Beekeeper of Aleppo, which is so good, but gut-wrenching, and As a Man Thinketh, which is incredible, and I’ll probably reread it sooner rather than later and now I wanted something enjoyable. I tried a couple other books first and gave up on them. One of the gifts I gave myself when I turned 50 was deciding that I’m too old to force myself to read bad writing…or really, any book that I don’t enjoy. So, I got 9% of the way through Babbitt before realizing that I was miserable. The writing isn’t bad, I just don’t like the characters. They’re too drama-y.
I realized a couple years ago, when I first started tracking the books I’d read over a year, that I read fiction and non-fiction very differently. I jump inside a good fiction story, devouring it until I turn the last page, sometimes only a couple hours later. And there are a few nonfiction “stories” that fall into this category as well.
But I read most nonfiction much slower. Instead of gobbling it down like I’m starving, I sit and chew and savor each paragraph. The pages, when I’m finished, look like the used college text books I’d search for when taking a new class, heavily underlined, with notes added.
Death Comes for the ArchBishop reads more like a good non-fiction book than a work of fiction. And it is the most peaceful book I’ve read in years. In this period of uncertainty, having a peaceful book to turn to on breaks is a blessing.
They relapsed into the silence which was their usual form of intercourse. The Bishop sat drinking his coffee slowly out of the tin cup, keeping the pot near the embers. The sun had set now, the yellow rocks were turning grey, down in the pueblo the light of the cook fires made red patches of the glassless windows, and the smell of piñon smoke came softly through the still air. The whole western sky was the colour of golden ashes, with here and there a flush of red on the lip of a little cloud. High above the horizon the evening-star flickered like a lamp just lit, and close beside it was another star of constant light, much smaller.Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
The descriptions of the landscapes are vivid. It did help that I’ve traveled through the area. On our honeymoon, we drove I-40 from start to finish, traveling from my old home in NC to our new one in San Diego. Traveling through the west was one of my favorite parts of the drive. I’d read about it, seen it on TV, watched and read westerns with my Dad, but I’d never actually seen it. He laughed when I saw my first adobe house and wanted to stop and see more than just the quick drive-by would let me view.
While the arhcbishop is the main protagonist, most of the time, he’s just the vessel for bringing us to a new part of the tale, not central figure of the stories…because in reality, it is a bunch of stories wrapped in the almost unbelievable landscape of the American west and only carried by the archbishop.
A word of warning: It’s definitely not a 20th century book, she refers to skin color on occasion. It’s not done to be mean or racist though, you can tell she loves the Mexicans and the Indians, the people at the heart of the book. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to think much of Americans as a people.
The truth was, Jacinto liked the Bishop’s way of meeting people; thought he had the right tone with Padre Gallegos, the right tone with Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant’s, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all. He stood straight and turned to the Governor of Laguna, and his face underwent no change. Jacinto thought this remarkable.Ibid