Death Comes for the Archbishop
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Death Comes for the Archbishop

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  14,460 ratings  ·  1,166 reviews
There is something epic--and almost mythic--about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican a...more
Paperback, Vintage Classics, 304 pages
Published June 16th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1927)
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Ben Winch
Oh... my... God. This is beautiful. I'm only halfway through it but I don't care how it ends; every chapter is so complete in itself, every word such unmitigated pleasure that I would be stunned – absolutely floored – if Cather somehow fumbled the ball in the next 150 pages. This is it. The work of a writer with nothing to prove. A writer so humble, her words so transparent, that she seems to disappear behind the curtain of the text, her elegant shadow barely visible in its folds. At age twenty,...more
Aubrey
3.5/5
Once before he had been carried out of the body thus to a place far away. He had turned a corner and come upon an old woman with a basket of yellow flowers; sprays of yellow sending out a honey-sweet perfume. Mimosa - but before he could think of the name he was overcome by a feeling of place, was dropped, cassock and all, into a garden in the south of France where he had been sent one winter in his childhood...
It's rare these days in reading that I'll come across a childhood thought or fo...more
Terence
Jan 24, 2009 Terence rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: Michael Dirda & GR Friends Elizabeth & Stephanie
Michael Dirda has an essay in Classics for Pleasure on Willa Cather that focuses on this book. That and the gentle prodding of two GR Friends convinced me to give this author another chance. I had been "traumatized" in a high school English class reading My Antonia and had never quite recovered. I don't blame my teacher. I wasn't forced to read the book except insofar as he gave us a list of "great American literature" and told us to choose a book and write a paper on it. As the crusader knight...more
Lobstergirl
Mar 16, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: adults
Shelves: own, fiction
I'm glad I didn't know Kit Carson would be a character in Death Comes for the Archbishop; if I had, I might never have opened the book. Indeed, a weight of glumness descended on me as I realized the entire narrative would take place in New Mexico Territory, between the years 1851-1888. I foresaw dust, and tumbleweed clumps, unrestrainedly tumbling through bleak moonlike terrain. These things hold little allure for me; they're why I don't watch westerns. And it's true, the novel is filled with de...more
RandomAnthony
Death Comes For the Archbishop is a book that appears to be about almost nothing but is really about a lot.

The novel addresses the lives of two French missionary priests in the American southwest. They travel, establish churches, get a little older, part, meet, part again, and talk through the nuances of their faith and expanding roles in the Catholic church among Mexicans and Native Americans with wildly different perspectives of faith but respect for good men. I like how Cather avoids what can...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Beautiful, scenic - my fave bits were the descriptions of the SW landscape and the hints that Cather gives us of how hard that life was for the two RC missionaries who head out to save the souls there. But what it didn't give me - which is what I like in my priestly books - is an intimate view of either their struggle with their faith or their devotion to it when challenged.

Cather teased me with the stuff that I wanted to know much more about -- the relocation and slaughter of the Navajos and th...more
Eddie Watkins
Dec 18, 2012 Eddie Watkins marked it as to-read
Shelves: dropped
I have heard there is a tremendously moving death scene near - as would be expected - the end of this book. Though I am of the firm conviction that one should live until one dies I cannot apply this principle, by analogy, to my own reading of this book. I doubt very seriously I can finish it. I am nearly 200 pages in and I still have no idea who Father Latour is. He is little more than a cypher on mule back who only slightly intrigues. All I know of him is that he will eventually die. It is poss...more
Kay
Essential reading for the New Mexico devotee. Cather's exquisitely rendered tale recounts the spiritual and moral concerns of the two central characters, a bishop and vicar, but it also paints a remarkable portrait of the New Mexican landscape and its people. There's an incredible stillness to her writing that isn't inert -- it's alive and almost luminescent. Some have likened her writing to the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe, and certainly there is a resemblance. Both women drew inspiration from...more
Andrew Schirmer
Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian, Virginia Woolf quotes the painter and art critic Roger Fry, the subject of her tender biographical work, as saying. Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop nearly did the same for me in regards to the Roman Catholic Church--an organization so bilious, corrupted, and scandal-ridden these days it would take a miracle for them to make a proselyte out of me.

Indeed, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a sort of miracle. Nine short chapters of unclutter...more
Peter
80 pages in or so and now I feel the need to say a few words.

How does one write a western about missionaries in New Mexico? I think it's foolish to assume that the conventions of the western narrative would be applied in such a story. But if you were to mix some of the familiar tropes of the western (The purifier comes to settle the land and the wild lawless society, a narrative much like Shane... or High Planes Drifter) with a biblical theme, in this case the problem presented at the Pentecost...more
Mike Puma
Death Comes for the Archbishop is a beautiful story, beautifully told. Suffused with the color of the desert Southwest, unusually (or surprisingly) respectful of the indigenous populations of New Mexico in the 1800s (both Native American and Mexican), and very Roman Catholic in its sympathies. In spite of its heavily religious themes and imagery, this is a very good story and well worth the reader’s time.

The book I finished just before starting this classic was Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not...more
Jackie "the Librarian"
Mar 16, 2010 Jackie "the Librarian" rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: historical fiction readers
Jesuit priests come to New Mexico in the 1800's to proselytise and to build a cathedral in the desert landscape. No, it doesn't sound promising, does it? But to my happy surprise (reading this as a college freshman, and one who favored SF over historical fiction) I fell in love with the two Jesuit priests in this book, and their mules.

Not only that, the way Cather writes about the New Mexican landscape made me fall in love with the desert. Here, the land is one of the characters.

Just wonderful...more
booklady
Aug 12, 2008 booklady rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: any Christian
My favorite by Cather; read this aloud when we did our family Grand Circle trip, especially the part in New Mexico. Such a gentle, quiet story. I know that my children were not touched by it as I am/was, but I'm still glad they know about it. It is a fictionalized account of the real life of the first archbishop of the western territory, a simple, saintly man who lived his faith without fuss or fanfare. The book is actually soothing to read, but I think it takes a certain maturity to fully appre...more
Lucy
One of my favorite things about keeping track and reviewing the books I've read is that doing so pushes me to read things out of my comfort zone. It makes me want to tackle the classics. Much more often than I used to, I pick up a work of non-fiction - a genre I used to happily skip over. In other words, I'm much more aware of what I read and a lot more choosy.

Death Comes For The Archbishop is a book I chose because it is a classic. Willa Catha's name was mentioned somewhere, and I gritted my te...more
Genia Lukin
I think that this book goes into the small but not-insignificant department of what I call "cute" books.

"Cute" books are books that don't necessarily carry a world-shattering message, are not always elevated to the point of rocking the reader's world, or revealing some life-changing messages. Cute books are books that are a pleasure to read, whose characters are genuinely personable, the descriptions are poetic, and the atmosphere as a whole is one of hidden pleasure, rather than of angst and w...more
Natalie
I savored near every page of Cather's look at the nineteenth century Southwest through a fictional narrative of the lives of two missionary priests.

In Commonweal when asked about the genesis of her book Cather describes how learning of the life, times and friendship of two men of the early catholic church in the Southwest:
The first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy and his friend and one time vicar, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf (1812-1889), the first Bishop of Denver who would later be r...more
Dagný
As it happens some wonderful books have escaped our reading them. Years will go by, decades, meaningful as these books would have been at any time, they finally ignite for the first time in our minds. Death Comes for the Archbishop was written in the nineteen twenties, depicting characters and events in the latter half of previous century.The setting, except the prologue, is in New Mexico, a place I love and where I lived for five years (which is one reason I am dumbfounded by my not having read...more
Angus
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

If books were buildings, this would be a cathedral

I first encountered Willa Cather back in college with her most anthologized short story, Paul’s Case. It’s about a young man’s frustration for people’s failure to understand him. Aside from that, I don’t remember much of the story, but I do recall how beautiful and dainty the writing is.

So when I read this novel, I was not tremendously shocked with its delicate beauty. I already have good expectations so there’s...more
Jukka
Nov 04, 2008 Jukka added it
Shelves: cather-books
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
November's Book Club Read

Just quotes:

"Where there is great love there are always miracles. One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a mom...more
Seth
“Death Comes for the Archbishop” is a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Lamy, a French missionary in New Mexico in the second half of the 19th century. Willa Cather, who wrote extensively about pioneers of the American West from her home in Red Cloud, Nebraska, named the character modeled after Lamy, Jean Marie Latour. Although the book has a deeply Catholic theme, the reader might be surprised to learn that Cather herself was Episcopalian.

The Roman Catholic Church initially sends Latour from...more
Justin
I have only one word to describe this writer - genius.

I read through the novel convinced that Willa Cather was a Catholic, and a particularly deep and perceptive one. I then looked her up on Wiki and discovered she had been born a Baptist and had become an Episcopalian in 1922. I could hardly believe it. Wiki also described her as 'a resolutely private person'. I could believe that - she had a breadth and penetration of mind that put her completely out of step with the prejudices of her time: he...more
Erin Mallon
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linds
This is the story about a plain, humble man that gently and moderately goes about his mission work to Mexicans and Navajos in the 1800's.

The good part of this book is the language. Willa Cather is a masterful writer. I lived in Arizona for seven years and she describes the landscape so accurately. I could feel the sights and smells. It was also refreshing to have a genuinely loving and humble priest character for once. The only other one I can think of is Father McCallahan from MASH.

The bad par...more
Matthew
"Parts of Texas and Kansas that he had first known as open range had since been made into rich farming districts, and the air had quite lost that lightness, that dry aromatic odour. The moisture of plowed land, the heaviness of labour and growth and grain bearing, utterly destroyed it; one could breathe that only on the light edges of the world, on the great grass plains or the sage brush desert."

How true Willa! How true.

Good to read a book of the Old American West with just as much attention to...more
The Chestertonian (Sarah G)
This was an odd book for me to really love because its main strength is not in unique characters, but in vivid scene painting. And plot? There really isn't one to speak of. But who needs plot when you can bring deserts and pueblos and caves and tamarisk trees to life the way Willa Cather can?

The story deals with two French Catholic missionary priests sent to an unknown diocese spreading out around Santa Fe, and with the Mexicans and Native Americans among whom they work. But interestingly, the m...more
Jessica
My bias on this review is that I LOVE Willa Cather's writing. I always feel a bit nervous recommending her books because the story lines aren't usually too thrilling. But, man, can this woman paint a picture. I'm living in Southern Arizona right now and this book takes place in the desert of New Mexico in the 1800s. She described my scenery so well and so lovingly that I'm seeing where I'm living much better than before and I think that is rad.
The book is more a compilation of short stories than...more
Emily
In James Wilson's prologue to his excellent history of Native America, The Earth Shall Weep, he discusses the idea of the "Vanishing American," still disturbingly prevalent in white American culture. This myth consists of

the central belief that 'the Indian' belongs essentially to the past rather than to the present. He (or she) is an exotic relic of some earlier age that we have already passed through: either - depending on your point of view - a kind of primitive anarchy that we have overcome (
...more
Elizabeth
Jun 23, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone who loves the beauty of the southwest or is interested in the lives of early missionaries
Recommended by a tour guide in Santa Fe who said the descriptions of the people and place were dead on.

This is my first Willa Cather and I have high praise for her story-telling ability. This novel was odd - I did not have a strong liking for the characters but I was compelled to keep reading. This compulsion did not come from any great suspensful plot, instead the plot (if you could even call it that) was nothing more than the string of completely unrelated events that happen to a person during...more
Dan
A month or two ago New Mexico magazine ran a feature about fiction set in, uhm, New Mexico. There were excerpts from "Death Comes for the Archbishop" in the margins, and I really liked the tone of them, so I picked up a copy. I wouldn't have thought I'd like a historical novel about a Catholic priest on way to becoming a Bishop on way to becoming an Archbishop, but the writing sold me. Cather's voice is sparce without being quiet, ideal for describing the stark southwestern lanscapes in which th...more
Nathan Rostron
Having never read her, the name 'Willa Cather' always connoted something dry and dusty for me, something reminiscent of the creak of covered wagons. But I picked up a copy of this book because it had been recommended to me, because it was an attractively slender paperback, and because I was in Santa Fe and wanted something that put into words the rich aromatic vastness of that place, which I was still absorbing after being there for several days. I'm glad I did: in addition to being a perfect ev...more
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881203
Wilella Sibert Cather is an eminent author from the United States. She is perhaps best known for her depictions of U.S. life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop.

More about Willa Cather...
My Antonia O Pioneers! (Great Plains Trilogy, #1) The Song of the Lark The Professor's House One of Ours

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“Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.” 52 likes
“The old man smiled. 'I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.” 38 likes
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