Lana's Reviews > Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
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Jan 06, 2012

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Read in January, 2012

Don't expect a riveting plot, but Cather's style of writing is well-suited to this fictionalized biography of sorts. She bases her story on the real lives of two Catholic priests in the late 1800's in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. The title fits: death comes to each one of us, and our lives are made up of how we spent our days more than one big, momentous occasion. Thus, this book is the stories of these two noble bishops as they served.

Quotes/parts I loved:

Bishop Latour to Father Valliant: "When there is great love there are always miracles. One might almsot say that an an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always." (p.57--end of Book 1, ch. 4)

Narration about Father Joseph: "Time and time again the Bishop had seen a good dinner, a bottle of claret, transformed into spiritual energy under his very eyes. From a little feast that would make other men heavy and desirous of repose, Father Valliant would rise up revived, and work for 10 or 12 hours with that ardour and thoroughness which accomplished such lasting results." (p.254)

I loved the two+ pages of narrative about the Indians' respect for the land: "When they left the rock or tree or sand dune that had sheltered them for the night, the Navajo was careful to obliterate every trace of their temporary occupation. . . . They seemed to have none of the European's desire to 'master' nature, to arrange and re-create. They spent their ingenuity in the other direction; in accommodating themselves to the scene in which they found themselves. . . They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it." pp.261-3)

When his Indian friend comes to be by his bedside before his death, Father Latour says he wished for this meeting, but did not ask because the distance was so great. Eusabio replies: "Not long now. . .I get on the cars and the same day I am here. You remember when we come together once to Santa Fe from my country? How long it take us? Two weeks, pretty much. Men travel faster now, but I don not know if they go to better things." (p. 326-7)


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