Dagný's Reviews > Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
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Dec 15, 2010

it was amazing

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.

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12/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Judith (last edited Dec 16, 2010 10:07AM) (new)

Judith I love Willa Cather also, but I could never get into this book. However, you must try "The Professor's House" next. The dual setting of this book is Chicago and New Mexico, and specifically Mesa Verde. It was an absolutely fascinating book and you should read it now since you like Santa Fe so much.

Dagný Mesa Verde and Chicago; been to both! I am not that familiar with Willa Cather, although I remember seeing My Antonia, in Icelandic translation, in my parents library when I was a kid. My daughter has been telling me to read her books, now I finally started, next The Professor's house...
I did wonder how Death.. reads for people who don't know NM. What an admirable writer Cather was/is, though.

message 3: by Judith (new)

Judith i think it is a book neal would enjoy as well, given his connections to both chicago and new mexico.

message 4: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Perrigo You are just missing New Mexico! Come visit me!

Dagný You are so right, and so sweet, thank you!

message 6: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Perrigo We can go to Santa Fe!!! Gotta new NM History museum up there I haven't toured yet....we could even take the train!

Dagný A day at the museum, its a date!

Joan thank you for your excellent review. the past is still there and I cannot wait to visit New Mexico now that I have read this work.

Dagný Thank you, Joan.
I was so lucky there; after reading this book in December '10, I stayed over Christmas at the LaFonda (where Willa Cather is said to have worked on the book), in a suite overlooking St.Francis Cathedral, next door. I was almost in an exalted state!

And the following year I also met up with Vicki, see above.
Then I read the Professor's House, as Judith recommended.

Ásdís, Vicki, Judith, we're getting some historical traction here!

message 10: by Joan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joan thx for mentioning the lafonda. was wondering where she stayed. I hope to be able to stay there this summer. happy reading!

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