Megan's Reviews > Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
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's review
Oct 15, 2010

it was amazing
Read in October, 2010

I read My Antonia a few years ago and had forgotten how much I love Willa Cather's writing. The prologue included a quote of Cather that captures one of the things that makes her a great writer: "Any first-rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it."

Death of the Archbishop is full of stories: stories of the growth and Americanization of New Mexico, stories of the native people and their faith, stories of the Catholic priests from the time of the Spanish conquistadors. This narrative follows the first Catholic Bishop of New Mexico, Father Latour, and his faithful friend Father Valliant as they leave France to bring Catholicism to the native people of the then-newest state in America. Over the next 40 years they travel many miles, endure many hardships, see both the good and the bad impacts of Catholicism on the native peoples.

This book is also about relationships. For example, the Bishop travels many days to see Eusabio, a Navajo, whose son has died. Eusabio greets him with: "My friend has come." Willa Cather adds: "That was all, but it was everything; welcome, confidence, appreciation."

Some great quotes:
(Regarding the native people) "They seemed to have none of the European's desire to arrange and recreate. They spent their ingenuity in the other direction; in accommodating themselves to the scene in which they found themselves. This was not so much from indolence, the Bishop thought, as from an inherited caution and respect....The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it."

"It would be a shame to any man coming from a Seminary that is one of the architectural treasures of France, to make another ugly church on this continent where there are so many already."

"I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived."

This was on ALA's list of 100 banned classics and, as we discussed it at the book club, we weren't really sure why. We didn't find anything offensive in it. I did find an essay online suggesting that the reason this book has never been made into a movie is the stories of some of the corrupt priests that came before the Bishop and their treatment of natives as slaves.

Rated G.
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