The Archbishop of New Mexico

Yet another late post; a book that should have been read & reviewed in April, finally trundles into mid May and I go with the philosophy, that truly, some things are better late than never! As part of The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, an event hosted by Adam, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, was my TBR book for April, and though I managed to finish the novel within the month, but just never got to posting a book review!

Death Comes

Death Comes for the Archbishop chronicles the life and works of Archbishop Bishop Jean Marie Latour and his Vicar, Joseph Vaillant , as they attempt to establish a Catholic Diocese, in the newly captured New Mexico territory of United States. The novel begins with the Bishop and the Priest travelling from Ohio though difficult terrain to establish their Diocese in New Mexico. After some initial setbacks, including a trip that took a year and on arriving, realizing that the local Mexican Clergy, refuse to recognize the authority of Jean Marie Latour, the two worthy settle down to tame the wild elements of the Church which so far had been in lackadaisical fashion managed by the Mexican priests, and bring true piety and relief to the inhabitants, whether European or American or Indians. Over the years, they develop friendships with the local Indian leaders as well the American Businessman and Mexican Ranchers; they rescue an abused woman from the tyranny of a violent husband and convince yet another, to give up on her pride and declare her true age, so that she does not lose her wealth. They try and overcome the acrimony that exists between the local Mexican Priests and the new wave of leaders that Vatican was sending forth and enable the building of  a Romanesque Church. Finally they both end their days, in this land, Father Valliant pre-deceasing Father Latur, as the Bishop of Colorado. Father Latur now retired chooses to stay in New Mexico instead of returning to his homeland in France, dying in the company and service of the people with whom he worked and whose devotion to him till the end was unstinting and complete.

Ms. Cather remains as usual her brilliant self. The dry, difficult land of New Mexico, with its parallel institutions of the Indians, Mexicans and Americans cultures and politics comes alive in this slim novel. In sparse, but succinct prose, Ms. Cather manages to convey, not just the atmosphere, but also the depth of the characters and their past history, all the while, moving the plot along, in such magnificent manner, that leaves you in awe both as a reader and a writer. The lives of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Wikipedia, advises is based on the life and times of Jean-Baptiste Lamy & Joseph Projectus Machebeuf respectively and I am not sufficiently well read to comment on how true to life the portrayals are; however in the characters of Father Latur & Father Valliant, Ms. Cather, created the epitome of spiritual leaders, who like all humans were beset with doubts and weaknesses, but still lead their people, providing comfort, support and spiritual guidance as and when needed, with minimum interference and with a lot of respect for different cultures and practices. The ensemble cast is equally good, providing much needed “materialistic” and “earthy” props to the religious/spiritual narrative of the main protagonists. The thing that really stands about Ms. Cather’s writings is her sense of humanity; writing in 1927, she made it clear in her quiet writing style that the government’s practices against the Navajos, who were exiled to the Bosque Redondo, killing many of its population was unacceptable and defined the very principles of humanity! To end, I can only say, this is a beautiful, lyrical book, that seems to sings songs of the land and lives of the New Mexico Deserts!

Pioneering Relations…

I finished reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia two days ago and I wanted to wait and assimilate my thoughts before I began blogging about it. My Antonia fell very neatly into two my reading events for December – The Classic Club Spin #8 and heavenali’s Willa Cather Reading Week. When my friends from blogosphere got to know in my previous post that this was in my reading plan, there were lots of good words and encouragement about a book that seemed to be universally liked! Needless to say this added to my angst…I am not too fond of hail the frontier kind of books…I love history but somehow the frontier things, maybe because it has been made so hackneyed and clichéd by popular culture makes me wary. Adding on top of that was my experience that if a book is excessively liked, I will end up NOT liking it; case to the point, my readings of Madame Bovary and Rebecca.

However there was much support and such strong belief among the people I really respected, about this book that I could not give the it up and I ventured forth.

My Antonia” begins with a short introduction by the author about Jim Burden, now a successful lawyer and humane person, who as a boy grew up in Nebraska’s frontier town and country and whose close association with Antonia, made it fitting that it is his story of Antonia is shared with the public

The story then opens with a 10-year-old Jim Burden travelling to Nebraska to live with his grandparents after the death of his parents. On the same train, the conductor lets Jim and Jake, the ranch hand entrusted with getting Jim to Nebraska, that a family from Bohemia is also travelling to the same town of Black Hawk and no one in the family could speak any English, except for the little girl, who could hammer together a few words and was a few years older to Jim. The Shimerdas from Bohemia are Jim Burden’s closest neighbors, come to make their fortune in the new land through farming. On behest of Mr. Shimerda, Jim and his grandmother began to teach Antonia. Their days of childhood is surrounded by games and nature and sunshine and though the Shimerdas are struggling to gain their foothold in the new country, Antonia is the companionship of Jim blossoms into a vivacious, strong girl with sensitivity and delicacy. However the idyllic days come to a halt when Mr. Shimerda commits suicide, grieving over the loss of his place in society and the loneliness of the new country. Antonia then goes to work for her brother, doing hard farm labor, while the Burden’s move to the town of Black Hawk, retiring from their farm. Mr. and Mrs. Harling are their new neighbors and under the influence of Mrs Burden, Antonia starts working in the kitchen for Mrs. Harling. She is much-loved and treated as a family member until an inevitable break comes in this relationship. Antonia’s life then takes on various different paths until takes her almost to the very edge of the precipice, till life comes back to a full circle!

On the face of it, it is indeed a Pioneerish novel, but there is just so much more to it! The characters more than the plot moves this story forward and there is a whole ensemble of this cast, each more memorable than the other; each holding a place in the reader’s heart. Jim Burden is a wonderful, kind generous boy who grows up to be a down to earth generous man. Men like that with honor and care for others are more found in books than in life and more is the pity!!! Naturally the protagonist Antonia is a lovely, courageous girl full of life and though her life chances are often stunted by various events in her life, her duty and her principles raises her from the ordinary. But it’s not just Jim Burden and Antonia’s character that holds you spell-bound, but a host of others as they flit through the lives of these two – the kind and noble Otto Fuchs and Jake Marpole, the very distinguished and kind Josiah and Emmaline Burden and for all her faults Mrs.Harling. You love these characters and wish you had the honor of knowing them all. One of the underlying trait of all Willa Cather’s character is generosity – the ability to help not only when convenient, but even in your extreme distress, if others are in need, you lend a hand. May be it was part of the pioneer culture, may be it was the then sparsely populated difficult land that forced men to be generous towards each other, for if they did not look out for each other, who would have? The land and its culture comes out racing through the book…you can see, hear and even feel Nebraska. There are some lovely and lyrical description of the land and her seasons that takes your breath away!! But most of all I liked and loved the comradery between Jim Burden and Antonia. In today’s day of tagging all relationships and constantly placing a sexual relation in the mix, it’s refreshing to read of a bond of love and friendship and comradery between two people of opposite gender that went beyond the clichéd definitions of a relationship. The relation between Jim and Antonia was so much deeper and closely linked to the very land where they grew up and I am so very impressed that Ms. Cather in an age way before our times where even now friendships between men and women is looked at with skepticism, could not only fathom but also beautifully evolve a rich relationship of depth and platonic love. It is truly brilliantly done!!

Now I know all my friends were right.  As always, a big thank you to Ali, Stefanie, Jane and Cleo for encourging me to read this book!!! I am so glad to have listened to all of you once again and to have read this book!!

Ideas on December, Holidays and Reading…

Ahh…December is finally here!! My favorite month of the year…the holiday season, the hopeful season (for the New Year is about to start and you can make all your plans here and now!!) and of course my birthday month! Undoubtedly the best month of the year!

Naturally this month being so awesome as is deserves an awesome reading plan, especially with a two-week long and lazy winter vacation! Therefore as I mentioned before, I have dubbed this month this month as I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event. It means that I will read all those books I have planned to read through the year but did not due to work, Reading events or because another book came up, I could not get around to them!

Kickstarting this month are two books which I think I have mentioned in my TBR for at least 4 month running but not gotten around to reading them – Michelle Lovric’s “The True and Splendid History of the Harrington Sisters” as well as Susan Howatch’s “Penamrric”. Finally I have started reading them!! Yay!! Also inspired by Stefanie’s re-read, I began reading “Emma” by Jane Austen and the book has such a Christmassy flavor to it with snow, fires and wonderful dinner parties that it seems like a great book to read now. I also have to finish Henry James’s “The American” and Mark Twain’s “Innocent Abroad” as a study in contrasting genres with similar subject written during same period. I am absolutely devoted to Anthony Trollope and Jane has posted such wonderful things about the Palliser Series that I have decided to read “Can You Forgive Her?” and “Phineas Finn”. Jane brilliant review on L.G. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” made me add it to the holiday season reading pile. Also in for indulgence of my Historical Fiction obsession a little more I have plans to read Sarah Water’s “Affinity”. Finally I have not read any plays for some time, so December is a good time to dig in and read G.B. Shaw’s “Selected Short Plays”.

As part of reading events, I am readingMy Antoniaby Willa Cather both as my Classic Club Spin #8 and Ali’s Willa Cather Reading week. Also reading (Sigh!) and I cannot believe it is Daphane Du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” as part of Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts.

That’s my plan for December….considering it’s the holiday time, I am sure I will read a whole lot more but because it is my I-Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books-self-event, I keep myself open to reading whatever comes along!!

A Spining Book and a Swinging Song…..

Monday 5It’s been an awfully long Monday and there were times when I thought that the hour will just not pass! Naturally I am completely exhausted (It’s a Monday…I mean you live 20 times your average stressed day on Monday, on account of it being what it is – a Monday!! Ok!! I know that I need to REST!!) I will make this post short and hopefully sweet.

The Classic Club has finally spun for the last time for 2014 and come up with of all the numbers – 13. My 13 was My Antonia by Willa Cather. I am both overjoyed and apprehensive – I have been planning to read Willa Cather for some time and never really got around to doing it. This Spin seems to once again motivate me into reading something; I was not quite sure off. Besides, coming off from my recent experience with Elizabeth Gaskell “Mary Barton – I am quite hopeful about this being a good read, despite the very dreary blurb!! (I must dedicate one whole post on book blurbs…they are increasing becoming critical in how I may not judge a book! But that’s a story for another day!) My apprehension is the geography – Russian Siberia and American Frontier has always been a geographical bug bearer for me. I have no idea where I picked up such a ludicrous idea, but I do have it now and am kinda stuck with it. All things going well, Ms. Cather should be able to change my mind about the American Frontier at the very least!

Anyhow I will sign off here and because I promised something sweet, I want to share with you all a song my grandmother used to play to chase away my Monday blues (especially when I would be joining school on Monday after a lengthy and absolutely pampering vacation at Grandma’s place!!) Hope you all enjoy – Monday is almost over! Cheers!