Dec 15, 10
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 this book earlier).
If we love something we feel proprietary; there is no fooling us as to its representation. Anything can be set in New Mexico, unless recognition impacts me I am unmoved. I had to read this book as slowly as only the best books I have read. I needed to linger with the writer, to adore the way she presented the loved object, to remember my New Mexico and to go farther, to imagine anew how things could have been. For that is what one does in New Mexico, the past is there still. The writer and I became one for the journey, or rather, we both become a Franciscan, the protagonist French Archbishop. When Death comes for him I parted from Cather too, knowing our bishop was so much happier, not just for having loved God, which he would have anywhere, but for having gotten to love New Mexico. The fictional hero, the writer and the reader live forever together in that love.
There is no New Mexico without its people. When Cather chose her emissary moulded on a real historical figure the alignment had to be his and his way of meeting the people. Therefore I can not see his conflict with the local, powerful and charismatic Hispanic church leaders as in any way disparaging them ( as I read someone complaining of); quite the contrary; Cather recognizes them while yielding to historical facts. The Navajo, the Pueblo people, they are observed in wonder. While there are some utter (white) villains the most conflicted character representation is that of Kit Carson, the scout, on the one hand an admirable friend, on the other a scourge of the Navajo people. The old Europeans, the new European-Americans, the old European- Americans, the old Americans; what a gathering in an extraordinary place through this book.