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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2014)
Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church - the only available shelter from the rain - and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.

Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.

Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Robinson's Pulitzer Prize–winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award finalist, Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic.

261 pages, Hardcover

First published October 7, 2014

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About the author

Marilynne Robinson

57 books4,922 followers
American novelist and essayist. Across her writing career, Robinson has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. In 2016, Robinson was named in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people. Robinson began teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1991 and retired in the spring of 2016.

Robinson is best known for her novels Housekeeping (1980) and Gilead (2004). Her novels are noted for their thematic depiction of both rural life and faith. The subjects of her essays have spanned numerous topics, including the relationship between religion and science, US history, nuclear pollution, John Calvin, and contemporary American politics.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,508 reviews
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
October 8, 2014
In 2004, Marilynne Robinson, a legendary teacher at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, returned to novels after a 24-year hiatus and published “Gilead,” which won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award and a spot on best-of-the-year lists everywhere. It’s hard to imagine those accolades meant much to the Midwestern Calvinist, but four years later she published a companion novel called “Home,” which won the Orange Prize and more enthusiastic praise. And now comes “Lila,” already longlisted for the National Book Award, involving the same few people in Gilead, Iowa, “the kind of town where dogs slept in the road.”

These three exquisite books constitute a trilogy on spiritual redemption unlike anything else in American literature. (Our Puritan forefathers wrote and worried plenty about salvation, but they had no use for novels.) In a way that few novelists have attempted and at which fewer have succeeded, Robinson writes about Christian ministers and faith and even theology, and yet her books demand no orthodoxy except a willingness to think deeply about the inscrutable problem of being. Her characters anticipate the glory beyond, but they also know the valley of the shadow of death (and they can name that Psalm, too). In “Home,” the Rev. Robert Boughton struggles to save his wayward son from drinking himself into the ground. In “Gilead,” the Rev. John Ames, with just a few months to live, races to compose a long letter about his life before he’s carried away to imperishability. And in this new novel, we’re finally, fully engaged with Lila, the unlikely young woman who marries Rev. Ames late in life and gives him a son when he feels as old as Abraham.

The geography and the cast of characters are mostly familiar, but this time around we’re entering a wholly different spirit. Boughton’s alcoholic son may have been lost, but he knew the terms of perdition and could torment his father and Ames in a language they all spoke. Lila crawls into Gilead from another world altogether, a realm of subsistence living where the speculations of theologians are as far away — and useless — as the stars.

The novel opens in a fog of misery. Lila is just 4 or 5, sickly, dressed in rags, when a woman named Doll steals her from her violent home. “Doll may have been the loneliest woman in the world,” Robinson writes, “and she was the loneliest child, and there they were, the two of them together, keeping each other warm in the rain.” They survive by joining up with a tough band of migrants looking for work as the country slides further into the Depression. It’s a vision of failing America somewhere between “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Road” — poverty grinding away every element of pride until the group fractures under the strain. Robinson has constructed this novel in a graceful swirl of time, constantly moving back to Lila and Doll’s struggles with starvation, desperate thieves and vengeful relatives. We see that dark past only intermittently, as a child’s clear but fragmentary memories or a trauma victim’s flashbacks.

In the novel’s present, Lila, now an adult, almost feral with fear and apprehension, wanders into Ames’s church. In that moment, the old pastor dares to imagine he might be allowed to fall in love again. But Lila is not easily or quickly drawn away from the life she knew. “Happiness was strange to her,” Robinson writes. “When you’re scalded, touch hurts, it makes no difference if it’s kindly meant.”

This may be the most tentative, formal and charming romance you’ll ever encounter. Ames, who assumed his years of loneliness would never end, floats off the ground in a state of anxious delight, always preparing himself for the day when Lila will run back out of his life. And everything about the reverend baffles her. “You’re just the strangest man,” she tells him when she knows she’s “horribly in love.” There seems no end to his concerns, his senseless courtesies. “He always helped her with her chair,” she thinks, “which amounted to pulling it out from the table a little, then pushing it in again after she sat down. Who in the world could need help with a chair?” He and his friends talk about people she doesn’t know and things she doesn’t understand. His constant allusions to the Bible — that old book — mean nothing to her. She can’t get over how enthusiastically his congregation sings “songs to somebody who had lived and died like anybody else.”

And yet she considers the reverend’s theological arguments with dead seriousness. Robinson, for all her philosophical brilliance, captures clearly and without a trace of condescension the mind of an uneducated woman struggling to comprehend why things happen, what our lives mean. “She knew a little bit about existence,” Robinson writes in this miraculous voice that somehow blends with Lila’s. “That was pretty well the only thing she knew about, and she had learned the word for it from him.” Lila doesn’t have the luxury of speculating about the possibility of hell; she’s lived there. “She had thought a thousand times about the ferociousness of things so that it might not surprise her entirely when it showed itself again.” The Bible is a revelation to her — though not in the way it is to her husband: “She never expected to find so many things she already knew about written down in a book.” The images of desolation and abandonment in Ezekiel don’t sound to her like history or metaphor — they sound like yesterday. Job could easily have been someone she knew on the road. When Boughton refers to the elect and the damned, Lila fears she may never see Doll again, and wonders if heaven is worth that sacrifice. How is it, she wonders, that these men can worship a God willing to send so many fine people to hell?

“You ask such interesting questions,” Ames says.

“And you don’t answer ‘em,” Lila shoots back. She’s been trained by years of violence and hardship not to trust anyone, but “he was beautiful, gentle and solid, his voice so mild when he spoke, his hair so silvery white.” Can she, dare she, give up the clarity of her old life for this gracious man who loves her past all reason? She knows it’ll only be a matter of time before she shocks “all the sweetness right out of him.”

“Are we getting married, or not?” Ames asks her early in the novel.

“If you want to, it’s all right with me, I suppose. But I can’t see how it’s going to work,” Lila says. “I can’t stay nowhere. I can’t get a minute of rest.”

“Well, if that’s how it is, I guess you’d better put your head on my shoulder.”

For all the despair and trauma that haunt Lila, her story is one of unimaginable, sudden good fortune that only her husband’s patience can coax her into accepting. “I can’t love you as much as I love you,” Lila says with a paradox worthy of St. Paul. “I can’t feel as happy as I am.��� Both of these unlikely lovers have suffered enough “to know that this is grace.”

Anyone reading this novel will know that, too.

This review first appeared in The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews46 followers
December 19, 2021
Lila (Gilead, #3), Marilynne Robinson

Lila is a novel written by Marilynne Robinson that was published in 2014. Her fourth novel, it is the third installment of the Gilead trilogy. The novel focuses on the courtship and marriage of Lila and John Ames, as well as the backstory of Lila's transient past and her complex attachments. It won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هشتم ماه سپتامبر سال2016میلادی

عنوان: لی لا؛ نویسنده: مریلین رابینسون؛ مترجم: مرجان محمدی؛ تهران، نشر قطره، سال1394؛ در345ص؛ شابک9786001198625؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

بانو «مرجان محمدی» مترجم این اثر، در گفتگو با خبرنگار مهر، درباره ی این رمان میگویند: («لی‌لا» به عنوان جدیدترین و آخرین اثر داستانی منتشر شده، از «مرلین رابینسون»، که دو سال پیش به زبان اصلی منتشر شده، یک سال گذشته را، در تدارک انتشار ترجمه آن در ایران بودم، که از سوی نشر قطره میسر شد؛ ایشان ادامه داده اند: شخصیت‌های سه‌ گانه ی داستانی «رابینسون»، یعنی «خانه»، «گیلیاد» و «لی‌لا»، با یکدیگر دارای ارتباط هستند؛ و زندگی آنها در کنار یکدیگر تعریف شده است؛ در رمان «گیلیاد»، خوانشگر با یک کشیش مواجه است، که در سن میانسالی، و بسیار دیر ازدواج کرده، و در شهری خیالی، به نام «گیلیاد» ساکن است، و برای پسرش نامه می‌نویسد؛ در ‌«لی‌لا»؛ روایت زندگی همسر همین کشیش، بازگو می‌شود؛ از کودکی و سختی‌های بزرگ شدنش در طول زمان، تا آشنایی و ازدواجش با کشیش؛

این مترجم افزودند: رمان‌های «مرلین رابینسون»، در زمره ی آثار پرهیجان نیست، بلکه باید آنها را نوعی اثر معنوی دانست؛ که سعی دارد، در جملاتش پیام‌های مشخصی را تعریف کند؛ از سوی دیگر، ایشان در کتاب‌هایش، از پیام‌ها و متن کتاب مقدس بهره ی بسیار برده است، و در رمان «لی‌لا» نیز شاهدیم که او به «انجیل»، به صورت مستقیم اشاره دارد؛ و در رمان «خانه» نیز، ایشان به رابطه ی پدر و پسری حضرت «ابراهیم»، و «اسماعیل»، اشاره می‌کنند؛ در رمان آخر خویش نیز، به مساله ی کالوینیسم در آمریکا اعتراض، و سعی دارد، مسئله را تغییر دهد.)؛ پایان نقل از مترجم

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 27/09/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
March 27, 2017
"Doll may have been the loneliest woman in the world, and she was the loneliest child, and there they were, the two of them together, keeping each other warm in the rain."

Lila understands what it means to be lonely. She knows what it means to connect with another human soul to overcome that utter loneliness. Lila takes us on her journey and it is one of beauty and understanding and developing faith, not just in God but in the human spirit itself. Despite hardship and neglect, can a person truly learn to trust another? Ultimately, this is what the heart yearns for and what Lila seeks throughout her life.

Lila, born into poverty and neglect, is rescued and raised by an older woman named Doll. It becomes necessary to their survival to lead a life wandering from one place to the next in order to avoid detection. Doll is determined to protect Lila from those that had failed to provide her with the most basic of human needs, including love. The two attach themselves to a band of drifters and lead a harsh life, but one that allows them to form a bond that will always remain within Lila’s heart long after she must strike out on her own. Alone in the world, Lila searches for an identity, she longs for that human connection that sustains her, sustains all of us. Drifting into the small mid-western town of Gilead, the town we encountered in the book of that same title, Lila decides to settle for a bit. "… she wanted to stay in one place for a while. The loneliness was bad, but it was better than anything else she could think of. It was probably the loneliness that made her walk the mile or so into town every few days just to look at the houses and stores and the flower gardens. She never meant to talk to anybody." Then one day while in town, Lila seeks shelter from the rain and enters the church. Thus begins one of the most beautiful human connections in literature as Lila meets the Reverend John Ames. Lila is full of mistrust towards others. John Ames is gentle and patient and full of wisdom – wisdom that he doesn’t preach but quietly shares with humility and after much contemplation. He makes no demands. John is not a stranger to loneliness himself and Lila’s recognizes this. "He looked as if he’d had his share of loneliness, and that was all right. It was one thing she understood about him. She liked his voice. She liked the way he stood next to her as if there was a pleasure for him in it." Lila, not formally educated, but with her own brand of intellect based on experience, reasoning and inquisitiveness, will develop a spiritual rapport with John that is moving and simply powerful.

This novel, published after Gilead, is set in a time prior to the events occurring in that outstanding work of fiction. While Gilead was told from John’s point of view, Lila is a third person narrative which focuses on Lila’s life. It highlights her own perspective of those events leading up to the time she meets John and their early life together. The story is told with a stream of consciousness feel to it that alternates between past and present. Robinson draws a portrait of Lila that illustrates her past struggles and how these juxtapose with her current attempts to overcome loneliness and mistrust. This is not an easy battle for Lila and we, along with John, are witness to her lapses back to the familiar and painful feelings.

"The problem is, she thought, that if someday she opened the front door and there, where the flower gardens and the fence and the gate ought to be, was that old life, the raggedy meadows and pastures and the cornfields and the orchards, she might just set the child on her hip and walk out into it, the buzz and the smell and the damp of it, the breath of it like her own breath, her own sweat. Stepping back into the loneliness, a dreadful thing, like walking into cold water, waiting for the numbness to set in that was the body taking the care it could, so that what you knew you didn’t have to feel."

After much reflection, I really must change my rating to 5 stars. This book and the entire trilogy, including Gilead and Home, are definitely worthy of that rating. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
August 5, 2017
It's 4:30am... I lost a lot of sleep-but just finished the last of this series--a life transforming experience.
What to say about Lila? A wild child? Perhaps --but unfortunately-and fortunately I think there are many 'Lila's' in this world. I related to her in many ways myself.

The writing once again blew me away - especially fit the emotional key of perfect pitch for me on several occasions.
This one small sentence alone is one that brought me to real tears:
"Fear and comfort could be the same". - For me to explain that might take a lifetime.

I loved this book - I loved all the books - don't ask me to pick a favorite- I just don't want to. I could justify reasons for 'favorites' for each one.

I absolutely loved John Ames- the old preacher - again - in this novel!!!!! One of the most beautiful moments in this story was when he gave Lila a private baptism out in the sunshine-( he was so tender and sweet)- they walked through a meadow of daisies and sunflowers to pick black raspberries. When he spread his white handkerchief out to put those berries in -and the purple bled through the cloth -- I swear I could smell the fragrance. AS I WRITE THIS... tears come to my eyes.... I'm sad this series is over!!!

Marilynne Robinson is a phenomenal writer!!!!!! I had no idea. I feel blessed as can be for having read her books!!!!

"If the world had a soul --that was it--wandering through it. Never knowing anything
different or wanting anything more".

Ha.... and this took less than 5 minutes to write this review- so it can be done! Lol
Much love to my friends!!!!! GREAT SERIES!!!!
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
791 reviews
June 18, 2020
What would it be like to have limited vocabulary with which to phrase our thoughts? Would we then have limited thoughts? Or would our thoughts instead be clearer for the lack of words to muddy them?

Such are the questions that occur to us as we read this account of a homeless woman called Lila, a woman without a surname or knowledge of what country she lives in—except that it’s good country for growing crops—but who knows perfectly her place in the world nevertheless. A woman unaware of the existence of the concept ‘existence’ but who still knows more than most about staying alive against the odds, about facing death with equanimity.

At the beginning of this book, Lila’s former life of wandering is over. It has come to an end because she stepped inside a church one day to shelter from the rain. The seeking of shelter leads to her choosing a settled life with a man who is particularly full of thoughts and words, thoughts and words being the tools of his trade. John Ames is the elderly pastor of Gilead and he’s a character whom readers of some of Marilynne Robinson’s other books already know. We had already met Lila too but only as a shadowy presence on the edge of every scene in those books. Her former life was hinted at but Robinson cleverly left much of Lila’s story a complete mystery; she clearly had plans for Lila from the beginning.

The earlier books each presented different facets of John Ames’ character. In Gilead, which is written in the form of a letter from Ames to his and Lila’s young son we get to know Ames through his memories of his father and grandfather and his own youth and life. The picture that emerges is of a mostly thoughtful and kind man, very committed to his faith, but we remember that this is a first person narrative and we know not to completely trust his account of everything.

In Home, we see Ames among his parishioners and friends, in particular the Baughton family who live next door. Home is a third person narrative, mostly from the point of view of Glory, Robert Boughton’s daughter, who cares for her elderly father (this is Mid West America sometime in the 1950s). As we see Ames mingle with the various members of his friend Robert’s large family, we discover different aspects of his personality.

In Lila, the other characters fade from the picture and we get a completely fresh angle on John Ames. In the course of this book, the man who has spent his life writing and preaching sermons, advising others how to think and speak, has to learn how to think and speak himself all over again. To understand Lila and to be understood by her, everything he believes in, the way he phrased what he thought he knew, has to be reexamined.

It’s rare for me to be truly moved by the words I read. I enjoy words tremendously, I look under them and over them and through them but they rarely cause my eyes to well up with tears. Although Robinson carefully avoids any attempt to trade on the emotional content of her story, the hesitant words that Lila and John Ames exchange as they seek to understand the meaning of the other’s almost unknowable existence moved me intensely.

What Robinson has done here is deeply, deeply interesting—not the creation of a love story between a young woman and an elderly man—but the examination from scratch of the meaning of life.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
November 20, 2019
This is my third read of Marilynne Robinson and as always a wonderful one. I inadvertently skipped the 2nd volume of the Gilead trilogy (I'll read Home soon) because the American Library had Lola on the shelf. Sort of a deep dive into the Reverend Ames' wife introduced in Gilead, Lila's story is one of profound pain and suffering and, thankfully, redemption. The book takes place as she becomes pregnant with the Reverend's child as she looks back in a sort of stream of conscience on her life and wonders whether she deserves a happy ending. As with all of Robinson's writing, the prose is exquisite and highly figurative. Both the Reverend and Lila struggle with the meaning of evil and pain in the world as Lila teaches herself to read using the "easy" books of Ezekiel and Job. Her childhood having been literally stole from her by the mysterious Doll is recounted drip by drip throughout the book. I felt it dragged a little in the middle. Well, put another way, it was sort of a one movement symphony (there are no chapter headings): it starts out in an adagio rythme in a minor key and slows to a lentissimo but about 3/4 of the way in, the pace picks up and the chords change to major keys, sort of like in Beethoven's 6th in the last movement, cumulating in Lola's acceptance of her past and her love for the baby and the Reverend.

Lila is always associated with nature, having lived off the land (and her own body) in her survival. Here the orchestra rises towards the denouement.

"Lila was glad to be seeing the country again, the fields looking so green in the evening light. Knee-high by the Fourth of July. So it must be June. Every farmhouse in a cloud of trees. There is a way the trees stir before a rain, as if they already felt the heaviness." (P. 213)

Here she is running away, but also symbolically coming home on her arc towards Gilead.

Later, Lila and the Reverend discuss his Sunday sermon in some of the best Robinson prose I have read so far:

"Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its parts don't add up. They don't even belong in the same calculation." (P. 223)
Lila: "Near as I can tell, you were wanting to reconcile things by saying they can't be reconciled." (P. 224)

Herein lies perhaps the core of Lila, some things in life are beyond human comprehension, beyond a religious explanation or humanistic reason. They are just so. To live life with a modicum of sanity and happiness, this must be accepted uncomplainingly and definitively. Just two pages later, Lila is able to say "I love you" to the Reverend in her own unique way:
"'No', she said. 'I'm going to have just one husband.' One was more than she'd expected.
'Well, you know, that's good of you to say, but it's not always good to make promises. There can be a lot involved in keeping them than there seems at the time.'
She said, 'That's not a promise. It's just a fact.'
He laughed, 'Even better.'" (P. 226)

This understated dialog is typical and sparing yet beautiful and about the most sincere that there two lonely people will be able to express themselves to each other.

Besides this tear-soaked ending (but warm tears of love and reconciliation, not cold tears of regret), the book also helped me appreciate a few things about how central the church was back in those rural times (the period is never stated but I believe it is between the wars since Lila talks about the Crash). The church was where people experienced music, where they held social events, where they sought answers to their existence long before TV, Twitter and YouTube. And yet, these churchgoers were the same hard working men that came to see Lila in the bordel in Saint Louis (or others like them). This moral ambiguity is a cornerstone of Robinson's depictions of Gilead.

Lila was a wonderful read and I look forward to reading Home now which I finally got from the library last week!
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,278 followers
February 26, 2018
The last book in the Gilead trilogy, and the most unconventional because of the choosing of an outcast as a protagonist. Lila is an orphan, hard-edged, uneducated, a creature that survived the rough conditions of her first years against all odds. Shielded by Doll, the enigmatic woman who saved her life as a baby, Lila pushes through in Dickensian conditions; hunger, loneliness and all kind of picaresque penuries paint her unusual story reminding the reader of the most celebrated works by Steinbeck where a constant drip of nomads sprinkled the countryside trying to escape the Great Depression.

Lila can’t be defined by social standards; she is a free spirit, a wanderer not bound by the restrictions of propriety or language, she is guided by instinct and mistrust and knows very little of the rituals in communities. So when she appears in John Ames’ church in Gilead on a Sunday morning, wrenched and freezing, it seems exceedingly improbable that the two might bond. And yet they do. This is the magic of this novel; the quiet conversations that transpire between these two essentially different individuals, a religious, highly educated old man and an illiterate young woman whose wisdom comes from the wilderness, the dusty prairies and gushing rivers.
Little by little, and avoiding any inkling of romanticism, Lila and Ames knit a complex tapestry of philosophical meditations on guilt, redemption, existence, and love.

Even though Lila and Ames had been extremely lonely and locked in themselves in their own way for years when they finally meet, the ability to withstand solitude is precisely what manages to keep them together. Lila embraces Ames’ world and his faith and is therefore “saved”, but she continues fantasizing about the uncertainty of living day to day in the margins of society with no shelter and only the sky and the stars as witnesses to her mute thoughts. I did admire her for remaining her true self in spite of the immersion into Ames' spritual vision.
That is the image I want to preserve of this final instalment. Lila’s earthly hymn to geraniums and violets that bloom in the countryside; her clean, plain face washed off misdirected self-punishment, finally learning to trust, finally daring to hope.
Profile Image for Guille.
782 reviews1,744 followers
May 22, 2023

“El mundo lleva aquí tanto tiempo que parece que todo significa algo”
Se lee en la contraportada del libro algo así como que siendo «Gilead» el más intelectual de los tres libros y «En casa» el más político, «Lila» es el más emocional. Nunca hubiera pensado que entre esas tres opciones, la intelectual, la política y la emocional, la tercera liderara mis preferencias. Será que, como el reverendo John Ames, me estoy haciendo viejo.

En «Lila» hay dos historias que se van entrelazando a lo largo de toda la novela. Por un lado está la vida de su protagonista desde que siendo muy niña fue robada/salvada de una destartalada casa en la que malvivía olvidada de todos para deambular en compañía de Doll, su salvadora, y de un grupo de desheredados en una busca permanente de trabajo, una situación que nos hace recordar muy mucho a «Las uvas de la ira». La otra parte se ocupa de su llegada a Gilead y de la relación que poco a poco se va estableciendo entre ella y el reverendo John Ames, una historia de amor improbable y peculiar que sorprende a ambos tanto como les desasosiega: él siempre temiendo que ella se marche, ella sin poder desentenderse de su pasado.
“Estoy bautizada, estoy casada, soy Lila Dahl, y Lila Ames. No sé qué más podría querer. Salvo que la vergüenza hubiera desaparecido, y aquí sigue.”
Lila apenas había aparecido en las dos entregas anteriores. Lo poco que habíamos leído de ella transmitía una sensación de dulzura, de paz, de ecuanimidad, una imagen que ahora sabemos que está muy lejos de reflejar la verdad… o quizás es que terminó hallando la redención que tanto anhelaba. Lila, hasta su encuentro con el reverendo, había vivido una existencia precaria e inestable que la había llevado a no fiarse de nadie, que la mantuvo en un estado semisalvaje que le impedía permanecer mucho tiempo en ningún sitio, que la empujaba a decir lo que no quería decir, a hacer lo que no quería hacer, a tener una vida “reducida a esa menuda e hiriente brasa de orgullo, mezquindad y amabilidad que era lo único que tenía para protegerse, con el temor dolido que se siente cuando cualquiera puede hacerte un daño irreparable sólo con el modo en que te mira.” Lila sabía algunas cosas, arrancar malas hierbas, llevar una casa, pero no servía para puta.
“En San Luis, una de las chicas le había dicho: Tienes que fingir que eres bonita para que ellos puedan fingir que lo eres.”
Lila, ignorante de casi todo y extrañada de cómo funcionan las cosas, se hace muchas preguntas. Piensa que conocer las palabras la ayudará a entender mejor el mundo. Lee la Biblia y copia mil veces algunos de sus párrafos. Pero la respuesta no llega, sobre todo la respuesta a esa pregunta que es el resumen de todas las preguntas: ¿por qué pasa lo que pasa?
“El silencio del mundo la espantaba, era como una burla.”
No entendía como había gente que vivía bien y gente que vivía mal y a nadie parecía importarle. No entendía el por qué de esa insatisfacción permanente en la que viven tantas personas, incluido, pese a parecer lo contrario, el anciano reverendo.
“Ella sabía alguna cosa de la existencia. Era casi lo único de lo que sabía algo… La noche y la mañana, el sueño y la vigilia. Hambre, soledad y cansancio, y aun así, el deseo de más. La existencia. ¿Por qué me preocupo? Él tampoco podía decírselo con esas palabras. Pero él sabe que es así, Lila lo veía. ¿Por qué desea más, con su casa tan vacía, su esposa y su hija en la tierra desde hace tanto? La noche y la mañana, el canto y la oración. La rareza de todo eso.”
La vida y la obra del reverendo es la personificación de una forma de enfrentarse a este misterio de la vida, una forma realmente exasperante para mí, aunque reconozca que tal respuesta contenta a muchos, lo que para mí solo puede significar que en ellos la respuesta fue antes que la pregunta: "Creo en la gracia de Dios. Para mí es ahí donde acaban todas las cuestiones".
“… debíamos prestar atención a las cosas que tenemos alguna esperanza de entender, y la eternidad no es una de ellas. Bueno, este mundo tampoco lo es. Ella tendía a creer que entendía las cosas mejor cuando no intentaba entenderlas. Las cosas pasan como pasan. El por qué era una pregunta tonta.”
Sí, la vida es un gran misterio, y también es un misterio, aunque algo más pequeñito, el que me gusten tanto las obras de Robinson, tan alejado de mí en la cuestión religiosa, una cuestión crucial en todas sus novelas, aunque presentada de una forma francamente honesta.
“Por extraño que sea todo esto, debe de significar algo”
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
November 20, 2014
2.5 stars

This book is written with the most beautiful and elegant prose and for the first few few pages I really was enjoying the book but sadly the structure of the novel didn't work for me.

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church-the only available shelter from the rain-and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister and widower, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.

Firstly I listened to this book on audio and while the narrator was excellent I found the writing style very repetitive and laboured. The story is told from different perspectives and I found it difficult to follow and the flow too interrupted. There is a very strong religious theme in this novel and it certainly belonged in the stroy but I found it a little much at times and again I think if I had read the book I would have understood it more and perhaps enjoyed it better. I was going to switch to paper format halfways through the stroy but did not love the subject matter enough to purchase another book. I did finish the novel and was glad I struck with it because
the prose is beautiful and poetic but for me this one just didn't float my boat.

This book has great reviews and I am certainly singing from a different hymn sheet on this one.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,076 followers
August 30, 2020
“She’d never have even known to want it.” (p. 140)

That sentence might be a kind of overview for Lila. It occurs when her husband, Reverend Ames, gives her a dictionary. Before she met him she was deeply seared by a life of neglect and impoverishment. She was essentially homeless, with something of a checkered past. How she pulled through in the face of such abject loneliness and poverty and abuse is deeply moving and beautifully rendered here.

“She didn’t want to be in any town that was big enough for anybody to know where it was.” (p. 212)

Robinson has exquisite tonal range. She gives us a refractive jewel of a book. Each sentence resonating with subtext. I am agnostic and an eager reader of the religious scholars Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong, and others, so I have been particularly taken with the discussion of Biblical scenes that makes up part of the newlyweds’s talk. The spectacle of Lila and the Reverend learning about each other through scripture, thus explicating it, interests me greatly.

“She was still thinking about Ezekiel, as much as anything. The man takes up the baby that’s been thrown out in the field. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. The blood is just the shame of having no one to take care of you [Lila thought]. Why should that be a shame? The child is just a child. It can’t help what happens to it, or doesn’t happen.” (p. 135)

Taken from neglectful parents by another woman, Doll, who strove to raise her as best she could, still Lila’s was a deprived childhood encompassed by the 1929 Crash, ensuing Depression, and Dustbowl. During her youth Lila and Doll roamed the Midwest looking for farm work. She essentially had no childhood. There’s something about the narrative here that’s strikes me as straight out of the work of Dorothea Lange, who in the 1930s undertook a famous WPA assignment of photographing the midwestern poor.

But much of Lila’s early life occurred just before FDR’s election. Times were miserably hard. Lila is not a stupid woman but she’s uneducated. Doll stayed long enough in one town so Lila could get almost a year of schooling. When she later marries old Reverend Ames, she begins to think in a way she has previously had no leisure for, sometimes with scripture as the guide, sometimes not. The reader joins her on her learning curve, which can make for gripping reading.

I wish I could convey in summary the full subtlety and mastery of this novel, but I can’t. How, for instance, does the author take Calvinism, whose worldview has always seemed to me so dreadfully harsh, and use it as a lynchpin in the creation of this completely beguiling novel? It seems antithetical. I guess you’ll have to read it.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
October 24, 2014
There is something about the character Lila that I connected to in a big way. How she came to Gilead and married to a preacher is a story that is both poignant and life confirming. She is such a diverse character, wise yet naïve, suspicious yet giving, always thinking and searching for answers.

Reading about her young life, her life as a traveler, going wherever Doll, the woman who took her, needed to go in order to find work. Loved the character of Doll, the wise old woman who had such a tough life yet took a little girl in order to save and protect her. Such hard lives, especially during the depression when all work literally dried up, leaving little recourse for, those who lived on the road, going from place to place. Eventually Lila would find her way alone to Gilead, with a past she didn't want to speak of, but thought of often. She would find comfort sitting in the church and would find her way to the scriptures, looking for a reason for her own existence.

Loved this story, the writing and descriptions are just beautiful and serve to balance the sometimes ugliness of Lila's journey. I read Gilead a while ago and now want to re-read as I feel after reading this novel I will have a different perspective.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,222 followers
March 7, 2016
Rather like Gilead, I found this an uneven book. The first seventy or so pages are absolutely ravishing – beautiful writing, a compelling story and a real sense the author has embarked on a lucid visionary quest. However, then the story lost most of its drive and the theme became a little monosyllabic. Lila, the feral orphan child searching for identity and a sense of belonging, acquires her grace a little too easily, not surprising as throughout she’s surrounded by idealised characters. There’s no evil in Robinson’s landscape, not even of the petty variety which can so try one’s patience and faith. In this sense it’s more of a fable than a novel with archetypes replacing believable human beings. At times I couldn’t help wishing Toni Morrison had written this novel. No one, after all, is better than her at giving the inarticulate an eloquent poetic voice. In Robinson’s hands the embittering experiences of Lila’s youth remain largely cosmetic. The struggle to overcome them no more difficult really than weeding a neglected garden. It’s a heartwarming vision. No doubt about that. And maybe, if you bumped into someone as wholeheartedly benevolent and generous as Lila’s husband such a happy ending might be possible. Gilead, for me, was charged with dramatic tension by the appearance of wanton malevolence into the narrative; Lila, on the other hand, has only her own demons to oppose and they are eliminated with the predictability of ogres falling in fairy stories. The message perhaps take too much precedence over dramatic tension. It is a lovely hopeful message though.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book561 followers
September 28, 2016
Some works of fiction are wonderful. They make us laugh, cry, sing. We love their style, their plot, their characters. But, occasionally, a work of fiction steps beyond that and becomes important. It tells us something; something we know but cannot express. It informs us about the human condition, the human spirit, the things that make existence, life itself, worthwhile and meaningful. This is one of those novels. It is one of three, which taken in their totality, are the stuff that true enduring classics are made of.

Lila is written in the same kind of stream of consciousness style that we encounter in Gilead. It is Lila’s view of the events that John has already told us about, but expanded and tempered by the addition of Lila’s background story and her own inward tumult. Here is loneliness, in its most cavernous garb, imposed by life experience and then self-imposed for self-protection. Here is longing and loving and fear and need and fright and tenderness and thanksgiving and disbelief and grief and, surely, grace.

How can anyone wade in these waters and not come out baptized in the knowledge of what it is to be human? How can Robinson touch on nerves so raw and still show us that there is good in every person if you stop to find it? What if the person who understands life the best is the one who has suffered the most and been offered the least? And, what if things that look horrible on the outside spring from the sweetest of intentions and motivations, or the fate of every individual is tied up in being seen by someone else, when you are invisible to the rest of the world? If these are not the books to read at this time of civil misunderstanding, I cannot think what books would be. This is a portrait of what it is to be the dispossessed and forgotten and what it is to look beneath the surface and discover that we are all fashioned of the same blood and tissue and fear and need.

I will be digesting this book and its brothers for a long, long time. I will re-read them soon, because there is no way that you can read them once and absorb everything there is in them that matters. The Pulitzer doesn’t always get it right, but Marilynne Robinson is a writer of such caliber that I cannot doubt they got it right when they handed the prize to her.

Goodreads will only let me give these books 5-stars, but they are, for me, what Milton and Pope and Shakespeare are--they are books that will not wear out with time and will have something important to say hundreds of years later.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
February 27, 2015
I read this in Nov , 2014 and somehow managed to delete my review . This is a reposting .

When I read a book like this I am reminded of why I choose to spend so much of my time reading . This book has characters that I want to know , a story that made my heart ache and yet lifted my spirit at the same time and writing that is just so good that I didn't want the last page to be the last page.

What struck me about Lila was the sadness , the loneliness , the lack of a sense of belonging and her inability to trust anyone. This is surely understandable given Lila's early childhood of neglect and life drifting on the road with Doll who saves her from that house where she was neglected . The pair travel with a group of others moving from place to place trying to get by . Through flashbacks we learn Lila's story and where she had been and what has happened to her in the years before she came to Gilead .

I loved her inquisitiveness , her desire to learn and the big life questions she asks . Practicing her writing and reading from the bible - Ezekiel and Job and asking questions that have no pat answers make for some poignant moments .

Yes John Ames is a preacher and they discuss the bible and God but I didn't feel preached to . On one level one could focus on the theology but for me it was just about the basic yet profound questions that Lila asks such as why things happen as they do , questions about existence. I loved John Ames and his quiet ways and how he cared about and for Lila. He too has suffered sadness and loneliness for years .

This for me was a love story . It is beautifully written and about more than their spirituality , religion , belief in being saved and the afterlife , it is about their humanity .
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
April 14, 2023
Lila is the third volume in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead trilogy. She published her first novel, Housekeeping, in 1979, published this in 2014, and so that—with Gilead, Home, and Jack, a five novel output in 49 years. She’s no Joyce Carol Oates, putting out a book a year! I am reminded of James Joyce, though, thinking of that slow writing pace. Joyce, responding to a question about how long a reader should spend deciphering Finnegan’s Wake, given it took 20 years for him to cipher it, replied, “That sounds about right, 20 years.” A great work of fiction should take a little more time to read, clearly, if you are going to properly savor it. Yet, in the past two years I have read all of the Robinson novels, including the trilogy in this 2015 calendar year—Jack came later—so by Joyce’s measure, I just read these books way too fast, maybe. But I savored the language, sentence by sentence, and suggest you also consider doing so.

The reason I think a lot of people don’t read Robinson is that the world she depicts in Gilead is a small Iowa town, with two of the main characters ministers steeped in the Calvinist tradition. Robinson is a Christian, and in the literary establishment, that’s not a popular perspective from which to write. We think Tea Party, fundies, religious-right wackos. The first (I reviewed each of them separately), Gilead, is a letter penned by 77 year old pastor John Ames to his 7 year old son about who he is and what he believes and cares about. Ames lost a wife and daughter early on, but marries Lila in his old age. He’s the fourth in a line of preachers, at least one of them kind of crazy. Ames is gentle, sweet, all-goodness. He’s older, so he rambles more than a younger man would, maybe, but Robinson perfectly captures this reserved, mostly thoughtful religious guy. We come to like him as he approaches the end of his life. Lila--the book--is this world seen from his young wife's perspective.

Possibly the whole trilogy is about the nature of True Religion, or spiritual truth, which Robinson might say comes down to Grace, vs. a kind of judgmental/literalist fundamentalist reading of the Bible. The way I learned the distinction in my Dutch Calvinist upbringing was “the spirit of the law” vs. “the letter of the law” and in Robinson’s theology, or her reading of the Iowan Calvinist traditions, the letter of the law usually and unfortunately has triumphed over the spirit of it, and she is exploring though her novelistic but never didactic depictions of various people, the ways of the spirit, and that spirit is grace, redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, all that good stuff. Whether you are religious or not, I imagine Robinson would say, the meaning of life has much to do with kindness, with grace, with human connections, with love.

The way this grace theme gets realized in the first book is in contrast to Ames’s elder preacher forefathers, and in Ames’s case is in and through the treatment of his buddy preacher John Boughton’s prodigal and atheist son Jack, home after a twenty year absence. How are we supposed to treat Jack? Duh, you love him and set aside all his sins/faults, he’s family, it’s home. You don’t read him the catalogue of his faults, which he obviously wears so heavily already. Jack’s more gracious “father” figure is neighbor Ames, whom he’s named after, vs. his own Dad, who epically struggles to be gracious with his son but most often fails to live up to what he believes about grace.

The second book, Home, so interestingly tells the story of Jack’s homecoming at the same time as the events in Gilead but is narrated through the eyes of Good and Dutiful Girl younger sister Glory, who has her own secret black sheep/sinning to help her not cast-the-first-stone at Jack. She’s on the surface a Letter (of the Law) girl, always wanting to please her father and go to church every Sunday. But there’s currents of swirling rage and resentment in Glory that she has to wade through to get to appreciate and love bro Jack. She’s jealous of the attention the flashier Bad Boy Jack gets from her father. Both Rev. Boughton and Glory struggle to forgive Jack, in their terms, and they are sometimes successful, sometimes not, ultimately not enough. Having Glory’s perspective on the homecoming, vs. Ames’s, is interesting, and insightful, anguishing, wonderful.

Both Gilead and Home are narrated by well-read and articulate and thoughtful people, with backgrounds in theology. These are smart people books, to be read in English departments or by college graduates. Canon fodder. And deserving of that, I say as one having lived a life in The Ivory Tower (but mainly reading comic books, these days!). The language is rich and powerful, the perspectives complex and often moving. In some ways I liked the first two books better than Lila, because they are more textured, thematically, narratively. We see contrasting perspectives within the texts. In Lila, however, Robinson creates an astonishingly and surprisingly different text, narrated by the unschooled (which is not to say uneducated) and much damaged drifter and young wife of Ames. Lila has not read books as previous narrators Ames and Glory Boughton have; she has no background in theology. She lives her life in the present always simultaneous with her troubled past; it intercedes on her observations of the present narrative always and interestingly.

The world Lila knows is one of the Depression- and Dust Bowl-road, drifting with a group of people, in extreme poverty, working for food, raised by Doll--a former prostitute who’s killed her pimp--for a number of years, and Lila herself becomes a prostitute for a time, the saddest and worst time of her life. Lila went to school one year and learned to read, and thereafter reads and copies out passages from the Bible, though not the often grace-laden New Testament, but the violently stormy world she knows and recognizes, one depicted in Ezekiel, and Job. Lila thinks the world she knows is reflected in the Old Testament Bible, though she comes to love the gracious Ames, whom she sees as a “beautiful old man” and deeply kind and as lonely as she is, she learns to trust him and learn a different view of the world from him.

Lila is a little on the edge of crazy, having lived as she was forced to live, but she sees herself as she learns more about spirituality as one who could have benefitted from the acceptance of someone like Jesus, and like Ames, both growing up and now. She knows the world is not very open and forgiving of the poor. It’s been for her a brutal world, not a loving and gracious one, not at all transformed by Light. But she gets pregnant, and this anchors her to her old man preacher. It settles her skittish, drifting nature. She’s had a taste of self-sacrificing love in Doll, who rescued her, saved her life; she decides to try to relax a little in this sleepy town and try to learn to love and be loved again.

Lila is, like Jack but even more so, an outsider, seen from the “churched” as a profligate, one “of the World” who challenges the views of the small town religious folks of the 1950s. Her story precedes the time frame of the previous two novels by 8 years. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I can say the wonder of Robinson’s capturing the intuitive outsider’s world of Lila is worth the trip. You almost can’t believe Robinson could do it, this intellectual Iowa creative writing professor. It reminds me, for language and perspective, of Faulkner’s rendition of Faulkner’s Benjy, a bit. The achieve of it, as Hopkins wrote, making Lila come alive! Robinson understands Boughton, Ames, Jack, Glory and Lila, this artist of the soul.

The best and most powerful scene in the book is the adult and largely unplanned baptism of Lila by the old man at the river, setting aside all the trappings of his religious practice to get at the essence of baptism, the water on flesh, the letting go of the past, the grace of it, something Lila wants and they both need. Clean slate. Spirit of the law stuff. I left the church, as we say, more than half my life ago, and I don’t think I ever really believed in baptism, not as a theological fact, and especially infant baptism never made any sense to me except as a kind of spiritual laying-on-of-hands, a kind of symbolic gesture of love. But that’s how I see it here, and I believe how Lila sees it here, as not so much theological as fulfilling a human need, which is maybe an important aspect of what the sacraments are maybe supposed to be, anyway: We love and accept you as you are. Lila begins to appreciate The Bible and religious and spiritual truths as such insofar as they connect to the world she has lived. Anyway, as the two weep through the process of baptism, I, the old agnostic, am right with them, weeping over the beauty of the scene and what it means for them. So moving. So powerful. So lovingly rendered, and with some humor, too.

Would you have to be “in the faith” to appreciate this scene? I don’t think so. Robinson translates for the religious and non-religious alike the act of baptism as trust, as grace, as an act of love. Flannery O’Connor says, in theological terms, “if it’s only a symbol, then the hell with it,” but I have to disagree. Sacraments like baptism and marriage have their equivalents in deeply human acts of kindness and love and relationship. I am reminded of the priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, stripping off the surface of his Catholicism to get to the essence of faith, something that maybe has very little to do with the way some religious people attempt to practice faith. How do religious people treat the poor, others? In our time, we have too few examples (that we see in the media, at least) of grace and acceptance and love. These books from Robinson are about the struggle to be human, to matter, to care for one another. To care for others.

Lila wonders what the world is for. Doll said, “it don’t matter” all the time, and Lila Dahl (not her real name; she never knew it) initially takes on that world view, and we can see why and how. “Existence doesn’t want you,” Lila says at one point. Readers of The Grapes of Wrath, of which Lila is a sister text, know the poor are not well-treated by those who have money. Robinson helps us appreciate the “mystery of existence” and the meaning of life, the why of it, what can make it meaningful. Jack isn’t really in this third volume, but you can see how this book develops the perspective that Lila brings to understand Jack in Home. In many ways her view trumps all the others we see in Home. And now, thanks to this novel, we can see why she has these insights.

Lila early on asks questions about what happens to unbaptized infants, to unreligious good people like the ones who raised her, and the letter of the law says one thing, a thing Lila can’t accept. You don’t consign vagrants and orphans and immigrants to Hell; you “suffer the little children to come unto” you, you love them. That’s how you make life meaningful.

I loved this book, and this tetralogy, with the last novel Jack kind of bringing it all together, and highly recommend it, and all of them. Great writing from one of the living masters, without question.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,218 reviews278 followers
January 15, 2015
I’ve tried and I’ve tried with Marilynne Robinson. I really have. Each time I pick up one of her books I optimistically feel a surge of hope that THIS time I will get it, THIS time I will understand what everyone else raves about, THIS time I will see the light. But no, yet again I am left bemused as to why she is such an acclaimed writer, and yet again I struggle to continue reading. So I won’t attempt a proper review of her latest novel, which is, like her others, being welcomed as another masterpiece by her devoted readership, and just say that I don’t enjoy her writing, I don’t feel empathy for her characters, and I sadly have to accept that Robinson and I just aren’t fated to get on.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,890 followers
November 25, 2019
In the beginning were the words, and the spirit of Jean Calvin hovered over them.

This is the same world but a completely different one to Gilead. It is a free standing novel, but plainly also part of a trinity, it is a religious novel full of allusion but doesn't require a prayerful reader who has a thorough going knowledge of chapter and verse. It is hard for me to think of it as other than a masterpiece, the apprentice has brought the evidence of their skill before the guild which cannot deny the status of master to the writer.

In Gilead we were aware of a political world: Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, ultimately Civil Rights. Here the narrator is aware of a time when she barely knew the name of the country she lived in, and even once she does the attitude she's learnt is...well, they had to call it something. This is a worm's eye view of the middle of the twentieth century. Wandering day labourers. Prostitution. The Missouri girls who keep their knives secure in their stockings.

Yet this is the same world, not simply in a literal sense but in terms of the concerns and themes of the novel. Grace, the will of God, Calvinism, the mild inconvenience of reconciling a loving God with less than pleasant things happening around you.

I read Gilead perhaps three times before I dared to write a review here, in part because when I first read Gilead I didn't even know that Goodreads existed which obliged me to read on my own without broadcasting updates on my reading status. Everything I have to say seems to do an injustice to the book. If I say it charts the wanderings of a woman through the mid-west from childhood, through casual agricultural labour, via towards a future in which she can nurture in the shadow of the atomic bomb I wonder how many potential readers I can dissuade from ever picking this book up?

In passing .

It is a book which quotes from Ezekiel and mentions Jeremiah and Lamentations, the things there in described sometimes seem matter of fact descriptions to Lila who has seen the work of great winds upon the mid-West of the United States. Rebecca sees Hosea as well, and I felt the presence of the Book of Job. John Ames was the upright man who had lost his family only for God to give him a second family in a wonderful way. The mind doesn't stop once it starts down this road - if Gilead was the book about the Father, and Lila the Holy Ghost then presumably Home will be about the Son? I believe, such is my Faith, that the Russian Formalists said that there were only seven stories in the world (or maybe it was nine, or even five, some odd number anyhow) and it strikes that if there are only seven (or five, or nine) then it is because those are the only seven, so far, which resonate with us. Those are the magnificent seven which ride through our consciousness.

Once upon a time I read a book called What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, there was one story in it which I liked. A man lead an aimless, though not particularly dissolute, life until he ended up working on a casino boat. He became aware that this was a moral low point in his life when he began dreaming about Jean Calvin. I suspect this story will be meaningless to people with no moral revulsion towards gambling, I desire only to repeat this story simply on account of how impressed I am about some dreaming about Calvin. I've never yet dreamt of any one from Church history let alone one of the Reformers. Ideally this digression would only me to smoothly return to the subject of Calvinism.

Let me button up my buff coat, adjust my lobster-pot helmet, before drawing my sword and collapsing in a pile of horrified self doubt as to whether I'm among the damn'd or the saved and have been since the beginning of time.

In the novel two old men discuss foreign policy, until Ames reminds Boughton that this is inappropriate in front of Lila, who is unlearned. So then they switch to Theology. Lila doesn't like theology. Which is quite understandable given she is aware of how many people that she has known who were unbaptised.

John Ames writes a letter to Lila explaining his position on this question: ...I realize I have always believed there is a great providence that, so to speak, waits ahead of us. A father holds out his hands to a child who is learning to walk, and he comforts the child with words and draws it to him, but he lets the child feel the risk it is taking, and lets it choose its own courage and the certainty of love and comfort when he reaches his father over - I was going to say chose it over safety, but there is no safety. And there is no choice, either, because it is in the nature of the child to walk. As it is to want the attention and encouragement of the father. And the promise of comfort. Which it is in the nature of the father to give. I feel it would be presumptuous of me to describe the ways of God..." (p.76).

How fantastic this is. Firstly because he is describing the what he believes to be the nature of God irrespective of how presumptuous this may be. Secondly because of its magnificent Calvinism. It is in the nature of the child to walk, it is in the nature of the child to want the promise of comfort, the attention and encouragement of the father. And whence comes the nature of the child but from the Father who created the child? So there is no free will. And in the context of the novel how are we to answer Lila's worry? Who is among the saved and who among the damn'd do we look to the regular church goers of Gilead, do we look to John Ames' grandfather - a preacher who had conversations with Jesus but fought in Kansas to make it a free state, or do we look at Lila and Doll - their ability and unquenchable desire to nurture and protect others, even to Doane and the gang and there wish to lie and steal no more than is strictly necessary to survive?
Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews675 followers
November 28, 2015

This novel is written by a woman who is working at the height of her intellectual and literary powers. I do believe that she is unsurpassed in this novel and that this book, as already mentioned by a reviewer, will prove to be an American classic.

Apart from the excellent structure and the mesmerizing prose, religious and spiritual leitmotifs, such as grace, old man, the colour red, and the four elements permeate the text. The word "grace" in biblical parlance can, like forgiveness, repentance, regeneration, and salvation, mean something as broad as describing the whole of God's activity toward man or as narrow as describing one segment of that activity. An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favour of God toward man.

But the most remarkable aspect is the skilful way in which the past (Lila’s life with the scarred Doll) and the present (her life with the widower, Reverend John Ames) coalesce and form intricate layers throughout this work.

Can you imagine an unnamed, neglected child aged about four or five with rickety legs, thus having difficulty walking, and then tossed out onto the stoop at night by those supposedly taking care of her? Luck however comes the child’s way with Doll, who cleans around the cabin, and hated by the child, and decides on the spur of the moment to steal the toddler. So off they go; the child’s only regret being that she doesn’t have her rag doll with her.

The first night they stay with an old woman who decides the child should have a name:

I been thinking about ‘Lila’. I had a sister Lila. Give her a pretty name, maybe she could turn out pretty.

Doll never does know why she stole the child and this would remain their secret throughout their itinerant life of many years. Doll and Lila fall in with Doane, a proud man, good at finding work, and feeding his family. These are good and bad times and they are even paid with apples one time which the children sell. Nevertheless, it was a lifestyle for Lila and she doesn’t know any better. In all it is a relatively safe haven with Doane and his family, where Doll and Lila become known as the cow and calf.

Doll then decides, wisely, that Lila needs an education and so at the age of twelve she goes to school to learn to read and write. The child is so badly informed about life that she doesn’t even know where she lives in the world, only that it is in the United States of America. But a year later, Doll is on the move again. She’s aware, as she knew would inevitably happen, that people will come looking for Lila. Thus, she carries a knife that she is constantly sharpening and advises Lila to ensure that she never cuts anyone as there could be problems. Indeed, Doll’s fall from grace is rather spectacular and very colourful too.

After meeting the preacher at the church for the first time, Lila is aware that he’s looking at her but he actually “sees” her and in fact inevitably soon will “know” her in the biblical sense and I think he realizes at this stage that she will play an important part in his life. Lila starts finding work from people in Gilead and even plants vegetables in the preacher’s garden and tends the roses on his first wife’s and child’s grave. It seems right to Lila to do this. She is drawn to the preacher in an odd way and cannot understand it.

Lila doesn’t wish to complain about her life before she meets the preacher, otherwise referred to as the old man. The paradox is that when she marries Rev. Ames and has a comfortable life, she still thinks of the abandoned shack that she stayed in when she first came to Gilead as she feels she is her own person, even though she’s lonely.

I have never before come across a character in a novel with whom I could empathize with so totally as Lila. She mistrusts people, even the preacher, often tells him so, even tries to annoy him; in fact she cannot bring herself to say “thank you” and I feel that she even isn’t truly aware she loves John Ames until she is baptized by him.

There is very little description about Lila. We know that she doesn’t like to look at her own face, whereas there is more about the preacher. He’s an old man, with silver hair, a beautiful voice, to whom prayer is important and he’s gentle and caring with everyone; he also laughs which I found endearing. He takes nothing for granted and the fact that he loves Lila is a continual joy for him; it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. He prays for her past and realizes her need to keep the knife as it was part of her history. The pair of them are matched in loneliness which, to their own amazement, turns into love.

Lila delights in touching Ames, to enjoy when he helps her on with her coat, his caring way with her, and the way that he looks at her. He still blushes from time to time. She steals his sweater as she wants to be reminded of him. She tells him that he ought to marry her, even surprising herself, and he’s more than happy to agree. On their wedding night she slips quite naturally into bed with him. She does wonder though whether she can become pregnant but this all seems to be part of her learning process. Nevertheless, she always needs to know that she can leave whenever she wants to, and through work by helping people in Gilead, she saves enough money to buy a bus ticket. This was her escape clause and she needs it, married or not.

Lila knows so little about life and is still learning (as I am) and then she steals a pew bible from the church (I feel to actually annoy the preacher), purchases a tablet and pencil and begins to read it. She was rather taken with Ezekiel and rewrote sections ten or so times.

I’m not really religious. My father was an atheist and didn’t attend my baptism. My mother, of course, had to go. As a result, I didn’t go to Sunday school and was not confirmed. But interestingly enough I loved Religious Instruction whilst at school and I continue to find the bible, especially the Old Testament, a literary masterpiece. There is nothing more enjoyable than browsing through the various Books and Ezekiel happens to be my favourite. So when I came across Ezekiel in the following text, I was enchanted:

And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle.

Lila is also compassionate as seen when she revisits the shack and finds that someone has been living there. She reminds me of Ruth here from the Old Testament. She also discovers her money has been taken from under the floorboard. When the current occupant, a boy, turns up and tells his sorrowful tale, his belief that he has killed his father and finally admits to finding the money, Lila tells him to keep it but he wants to return half to her. Then circumstances get quite out of control, through the intervention of her husband, as he was worried about her, and his old friend, Rev. Robert Boughton.

Such beauty studs this remarkable literary work even when Lila is working in the whore house in St Louis when unfortunate circumstances with Doll force her to leave, resulting in Lila finally ending up in Gilead. She is indeed touched by the hand of grace upon arrival there.

I’m so taken with this book I’m having difficulty expressing myself, as Lila also finds. So in conclusion, I can only add that this is the most beautiful and yet haunting novel that I have read for a very long time; the descriptions are excellent and poetic; a mesmerizing tour de force. I cannot stop thinking about the words, their sheer beauty.

Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
632 reviews349 followers
September 5, 2016
My fourth Marilynne Robinson book, and though I’m a fan, my least favorite in the Gilead series. Halfway through I stop and read some lovely reviews that do it the justice it no doubt deserves and make me feel like a completely inadequate reader not up to the task of appreciation. I feel detached and somewhat bored at points. The structure bothers me. No chapters, just pages that keep going with past events against the current ones in protagonist Lila’s story. I feel the need to stop and ponder, but do not know when or if I should, except at the designated few and far between break points. I feel there should be more of them but the narrative just keeps going and changes directions like my mind when it keeps running and won’t shut off, as if there won’t be another day or time to take up thinking again.

Lila’s story is heartbreaking yet fascinating from my modern point of view but unfolds in a similar manner to the way my grandparents and parents communicated. They used the Less Is More approach and rarely showed emotions. Like Lila, they were stoic with strong work ethics and kept their secrets close. I know more about her than I do about all of them combined. These paragraphs form a hymn of sorts to them and their kind. With the author’s gift of prose there is truth and beauty in the telling yet there is a disconnect for me.

I wrote my thoughts above at that halfway point mentioned above then later finished reading. I think Lila’s personality reflects my family matriarchs and influenced my reception to this. The literary blessings that Robinson usually bestows on me just never materialized.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews18 followers
October 20, 2014
Have you ever read a book that was so good it hurt? Marilynne Robinson knows how to touch deep places. Simply beautiful.

If you are new to her stories, I would recommend that you read Gilead and Home first. It deepens the appreciation for Lila.

The other day it occurred to me that reading Robinson's novels feels similar to reading Willa Cather. They both have a talent for saying important things in understated, familiar ways that make you really FEEL the truth of them. In this book, Lila herself is reading the biblical book of Ezekiel, surprised at how this wild, dangerous poetry rings so true to her. She just "knows" the truth of it. That's how I feel, exactly, reading Robinson's trilogy. It is hard to explain how very true it feels.

Her stories (including Lila) are haunting, beautiful, and thoughtful... but not always and altogether "happy." Still, they make you glad to be alive, miraculously living right where you are, among all the other miraculous people in the world.
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews651 followers
May 23, 2017
Gilead, Home, and the Undertow of Transience

So Marilynne Robinson returns once more to the small Iowa town immortalized in her Pulitzer Prizewinning novel Gilead; is there really enough material there for three books? When Home, the second novel, came out, my answer was almost but not quite. Now with Lila, I have no doubt. This is every bit as rich and self-contained a book as either of its predecessors, a deeply moving meditation on life, love, and God. It is the simplest of the three novels, and the earliest in time, essentially the story of how the elderly preacher John Ames meets and marries his second wife, a former drifter who goes by the name of Lila. But it is also the most complex, weaving past and present, thought and action, together into a multi-layered texture that reminds me strongly of Faulkner—another writer who mined riches from the lives of a few families in a restricted rural location. It is a work of heartbreaking beauty.

We meet Lila as a very young child, stolen from a house where she has been neglected and left to die. Her rescuer is a drifter named Doll. She nurses the girl back to health, and joins a small group of other transients, living by doing odd jobs until the Depression and the Dust Bowl force them to split up. At one point, Doll stays put for long enough for Lila to get a year of schooling. It is enough to teach her to read and do arithmetic; she is a very bright student. Somehow, parted from Doll, Lila ends up in Gilead, living in a deserted shack outside the town, and offering gardening and household help to meet her small needs. Before long, she has met John Ames, one of the town's two preachers, an elderly widower. When she calls on him one morning, he offers her coffee, and asks her to tell him a little about herself:
She shook her head. "I don't talk about that. I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do."

"Oh!" he said. "Then I'm glad you have some time to spare. I've been wondering about that more or less my whole life."
Lila's question and Ames' attempt to answer it form the theological mainspring of the book. For in addition to being a story of two lonely people coming together, this is also a book about religious belief, more explicitly so than either of its predecessors. Those who have read Gilead (though that is not necessary*) will know what a beautiful character John Ames is: a man of God, but a modest and above all a kind one. Christianity is in his bones and blood, and yet there is nothing doctrinaire about him; he talks to God, but has no time for Hell; his is a religion of welcome, never exclusion. His world is an extremely attractive one for me, as a former believer who remains interested in religion's attempts to answer the big questions, but utterly resists signing up for any faith.

I should say, however, that this is far from theology for the masses. The books in her stolen Bible that Lila copies out to improve her handwriting, and ponders as she does so, are among the most difficult ones, Ezekiel and Job. "It could be that the wildest, strangest things in the Bible," she thinks, "were the places where it touched earth." Without fully understanding them, Lila is attracted to the verses in Ezekiel about the lightning and the whirlwind, or the babe abandoned in the field, weltering in its blood. Ames too tries to make the Bible touch earth: in affirming its relevance to his own life, explaining it to Lila, respecting the wild thing that she is, and building trust and tenderness between them.

Marilynne Robinson's 1980 novel Housekeeping, written almost a quarter-century before her next one, Gilead, is also about drifters. Its back cover contains a phrase that has long stuck with me, "The dangerous undertow of transience." I am struck by how Robinson's themes keep folding back on each other: transience, Gilead, home. I had always thought of home as a place to settle, a place to build, and place that you would never have to leave again. But in Lila, Robinson shows that the undertow of transience is always present, too. Even after they are married, Lila is not fully ready to settle with Ames, and he also accepts that she is liable to go off at any moment. This is where the influence of Faulkner comes in. It is not simply a matter of present-day narrative and flashbacks. Past and present are folded together inextricably, each growing within the other. At all times, Lila carries with her the memories of where she has been, what she has suffered, and the people she has loved. Gradually, we learn more about her, and come to revise our estimates of her age, background, and character. She is no angel, and has been through more than we ever knew. But we come to see her as truly a good person, and Ames' love becomes in turn our own.

A small example. After Lila has given birth to the young son whom we will glimpse in Gilead, Ames decides to take him fishing. Lila imagines telling the story to him once he is old enough to understand:
He had his pole and creel in his hand and you in the crook of his arm and he went off down the road in the morning sunshine, striding along like a younger man, talking to you, laughing. He came back an hour later. He set the empty creel on the table and said, "We propped the pole and watched dragonflies. Then we got a little tired." And what a look he gave her, in the sorrow of his happiness.
With countless scenes like that, Marilynne Robinson offers her readers a radiant gift. And that final phrase is sheer genius.


I would go further and urge that you read Lila first, if you have not read Gilead. Otherwise, read this as though it were first. This counteracts the tendency to see the book as merely the back-story of a character being groomed for a minor role in the more famous novel, and Lila can appear as the wild force that she is, as protagonist in her own right.
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,261 reviews404 followers
June 8, 2020
After starting Gilead, not enjoying it at all and giving up I was so glad a gave this a try. I found a copy in a telephone box turned into a free library and remembering goodreads friend Booklady's glowing review I brought it home.

This is a very beautifully told story, one that has stayed with me many days after finishing. Lila looks back on her life and as the story is told we weave together past events, Lila's life has dramatically changed, Lila has changed too and we see the gradual change as the story unfolds.

I think it's a good story to come to not knowing much about the plot. I came to really care for these characters, those who have been touched by homelessness, poverty, abusive upbringings, the loss of a loved one or not having parents around will find this particularly poignant.
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 2 books177 followers
March 7, 2021
Lila is the third book in Marilynn Robinson's Gilead quartet. It begins with her earliest memories. At age four or five, Lila's parents left her at a house for migratory workers. If she cried or made noise, the residents put her out onto the porch. Doll, a migrant herself, put an end to this bleak existence by stealing Lila and raising her as part of an itinerant migrant band that traveled the Midwest doing manual labor.

Robinson paints a portrait of migratory life in the 1920s and 1930s that is nuanced and filled with pathos. Doll faces increasing hardship with her brand of dignity and integrity. She instills in Lila the importance of self-reliance and teaches her not to trust. Once Lila loses Doll, she goes on the road to find work where she can. Her experiences reinforce Doll's bleak worldview until she arrives in Gilead and meets John Ames.

Lila meets Rev Ames by chance when she enters his church to escape a rainstorm. He is twice her age, highly educated, yet his life has been marred by loss. His wife and baby both died in childbirth when Ames was young. He has lived a dutiful yet lonely life. In the novel Gilead, Ames describes his burgeoning relationship with Lila against the backstory of his life. In Lila, we learn her perspective. It is a story of memory, loss, hardship, and her struggle to trust and perhaps find faith.

Lila is a beautifully written character study. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,298 reviews450 followers
June 22, 2015
This has to be one of the most beautiful love stories I've ever read, even though it would not be classified as such. A young woman battered by life, and an elderly minister beloved by his congregation, yet so lonely, only God and his prayers and old man Boughten next door to keep him company. They very inprobably find each other and get married and have a child, and along the way shyly and fearfully learn to trust each other. The story is told by Lila, since we heard John Ames story in "Gilead", but is really a prequel to that story. There is a lot of religious discussion between the two of them, very interesting because it pits his conservative Calvinism against her street smarts and common sense. Personally, I thought she won every discussion, although she did consent to be baptized, but then she rinsed it off so it wouldn't really count. There's gentle humor like that all through this book. It's not a novel for anyone looking for action and drama, but if you love interior dialogue books, you'll love this one. It's a peaceful read.
My hope is that she'll decide to do another installment from the point of view of their son. That would round things off very nicely.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28k followers
January 16, 2021
She’s so good at the slow reveal, like her characters are deciding if the reader is worthy of their trust as the book goes on. I loved Housekeeping and Gilead, then didn’t love Home, so it was a nice surprise to end up loving Lila.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
November 16, 2014
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but since it was a finalist for the National Book Award, I would have been reading it anyway!

When I finally got around to reading Gilead, I was surprised by how much I liked it despite its very small world. Marilynne Robinson kept to that small world when she wrote Home, a story set in the same time with a parallel character. And this book does it again by telling the story of the wife of the minister from the first book. This one feels much more set in a specific time period, as Lila comes from a group of wanderers trying to survive during the Great Depression.

The writing is powerful even in its simplicity, and there is a lot to think about through the contrast of Lila and the minister. This would be my pick to win the National Book Award, but Housekeeping remains my favorite book by this author. There are a few similarities between Housekeeping and the character of Lila which I think will please readers who are a fan of that earlier work.

A few tidbits:

"She liked to do her wash. Sometimes fish rose for the bubbles. The smell of soap was a little sharp, like the smell of the river. In that water you could rinse things clean. It might be a little brown after a good rain, soil from the fields, but the silt washed away or settled out. Her shirts and her dress looked to her like creatures that never wanted to be born, the way they wilted into themselves, sinking under the water as if they only wanted to be left there, maybe to find some deeper, darker pool. And when she lifted them out, held them up by their shoulders, they looked like pure weariness and regret. Like her own flayed skin. But when she hung them over a line and let the water run out, and the sun and the wind dry them, they began to seem like things that could live."

"Children come up with these notions, and then after a while they forget to wonder about it all, because what does it matter, what does it have to do with t hem, things are what they are."
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
1,032 reviews318 followers
February 13, 2021
“She liked to hear people tell stories. The saddest ones were the best. She wondered if that meant anything at all."

Ao ler “Lila” percebi perfeitamente por que é Marilynne Robinson uma das escritoras americanas mais respeitadas e até veneradas dos nossos dias. A escrita dela é de uma precisão tal, que não há uma palavra a mais, uma descrição desnecessária, um diálogo que não pareça credível, uma personagem que não tenha carácter, por mais secundária que seja. Por ser negligenciada em pequena, Lila é levada de casa por Doll, que não lhe é nada, e criada por ela durante os duros anos 30, os anos da Grande Depressão nos Estados Unidos, percorrendo o país sozinhas ou integradas noutro grupo de migrantes sazonais, essa enorme massa de gente desamparada e miserável que, nessa época, procurava trabalho onde havia em troca de pouco mais do que comida.
Lila leva uma vida de andarilha até ser adulta e chegar a Gilead, onde, apesar de todo o seu orgulho e desconfiança, aprende a baixar a guarda e conhece o Reverendo John Ames.

“He said, ‘I suppose you still don’t trust me at all.’
‘I just don’t go around trusting people. Don’t see the need.’ (..)
‘The roses are beautiful. On the grave. It’s very kind of you to do that.’
She shrugged, ‘I like roses.’
‘Yes, but I wish there were some way I could repay you.’
She heard herself say, ‘You ought to marry me.’”

Há uns anos, j�� tinha tentado ler o primeiro volume da tetralogia “Gilead”, que é uma longa carta do velho Reverendo John Ames ao seu pequeno filho, onde percebi que o estilo de Marilynne Robinson é realmente precioso, no entanto, como n��o tenho o mínimo interesse por nenhuma religião, as constantes citações da Bíblia levaram a melhor sobre mim. Em “Lila”, apesar das conversas entre o Reverendo e Lila sobre o inferno, o baptismo e várias passagens das Escrituras, a maravilhosa relação entre os dois conseguiu sobrepor-se à minha impaciência. É uma união entre duas pessoas feridas mas puras, que não têm nada em comum, mas servem de paliativo uma à outra.

“This is the very worst part of being broke. Everybody can see how broke you are. It seems like this whole town is making a project of knowing every damn thing I don’t have. If I left here, I could wear these things and nobody would give it a thought. If I stay, I’m walking around in somebody else’s old clothes, somebody’s charity.”
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,660 followers
July 29, 2015
As John Ames’s late-life second wife, Lila’s something of a background figure in Gilead; there are only hints at her rough upbringing and manners, as well as her slightly unorthodox spiritual thinking. Lila is a prequel, then; its present-day is the late 1940s, when Lila’s wanderings bring her to Gilead, Iowa and she falls into an altogether surprising romance with the elderly pastor. Yet it also stretches back to Lila’s semi-feral upbringing with Doll and the gang, and her brief sojourn in a St. Louis whorehouse.

As usual, Robinson treats themes of suffering, abandonment and grace with subtle, elegant prose. However, I wished Lila’s story could have been in a more intimate, dialect-rich first person, to rival Ames’s in Gilead; I also fear many readers will be put off by the biblical material here: it’s essentially an extended analogy to the book of Hosea, plus there are frequent snatches of the books of Ezekiel and Job – not exactly accessible examples of scripture.

(See my full review at For Books’ Sake.)
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