A new American classic from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead and Housekeeping. 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.
©2014 Marilynne Robinson (P)2014 Macmillan Audio
I love books!
This isn't a book for everyone, it's a book for thinkers, those who think about God, life, and what iife is all about. Life is what it is is the mantra I took away from the story. A sequel to the author's Pulitzer Prize winning "Gilead", it's also set in Gilead, Iowa with mostly the same characters. This book, however, focuses on Lila, one of the minor characters in the book Gilead. The author has worked at the University of Iowa and its Writers Workshop for the last 25 years. She's a thinker, an intellectual and this, and her other books, are a reflection of the believes she has developed over her lifetime. The author is a member of the United Church of Christ and a follower of the teachings of John Calvin. The more I learned about her in researching her life, it came to me that this is her way to put what she thinks about life and religion into a book as a parable set in a fictional small Iowa town. If you enjoy her books and what they are saying it makes you want to know more.
This is the story of Lila, a vagrant working her way day by day through Iowa during the 1930's and '40's, and how her life is affected by the kindness and casual cruelty of the strangers that she meets. Even Lila is not sure who she really is; all she knows is what she has been told by a woman named Doll who rescued her from neglect and mistreatment. We never know any more about Lila's or Doll's origins than Lila herself knows, and we find that don't need to know more. Ms Robinson writes with deep respect and love for the poor -- those who live from hard-working hand to desperate mouth. Eventually Lila meets Reverend John Ames, an elderly minister who has lost both his wife and his young son. The two fall in love, marry, and have a child, knowing that John may not live long enough to see the boy grow up. The growth of their love, of Lila's quest to understand her place in the world, and of John's struggles to reconcile his Calvinist faith with the lives around him and his own lived experience are beautifully and sensitively told both in Robinson's writing and in Maggie Hoffman's reading.
Calvinism in reference to "predestination" was cited in the first two books ("Gilead" and "Home") including a a passage in "HOME" describing Lila's piqued interest of the subject during a porch interpretation setting the stage for this book. Lila" is a book that will stay with you long after the last read or listened to word: melancholy, heartbreaking, still with elements of hope and hard driven faith and yes...predestination/predetermination or "fate". The narrator captured all the characters nuances. I am hoping for one more "Gilead" book.
Lila is an exquisite book. It’s so well written. The prose is poetic. It’s religious and spiritual. I am sure that some book society somewhere is waiting with bated breath to give it a critical award. Is it a timely book written for the modern reader? I am not so sure.
This is the third of a trilogy written by the legendary Marilynne Robinson. All of these books take place in the town of Gilead, Iowa. In the first book, Gilead, Robinson writes about faith and Christianity using stories about the town and its minister as characters in her parables. In Home, the same minister is near death, writes a letter about his life to help his son with his struggles with alcoholism. Lila, a prequel, is a story about the unlikely marriage of a very elderly minister and a young drifter. Do not be mistaken in thinking that since this is a prequel you will be able to start this novel then go on to the other two. I was clearly lost for the first few chapters of Lila. I am not fond of books that throw the reader in the deep end, expecting them to figure out how they got here and how to save themselves at the same time.
Lila is a feral child born in the depression. Unloved by her natural family for no given reason, she is taken and cared for by a drifter, with little means of support, named Doll. Eventually, Lila crosses paths with the elderly generous minister whom saves her from her profound loneliness and they share a depth of love and faith that few see in their lifetime. At times each is the more learned, the needier and the more giving.
You will not read a better written book. Will this slow moving somber character study keep your interest is a question that I am feeling was the least important consideration of the author when writing this book.
It's hard to pinpoint, but hard to forget. She has a gentle voice and a slight Southern lilt that accents the entire story.
Having loved and admired Gilead and Home, I was a little nervous about Lila, wondering whether Robinson could possibly live up to the high standards she’d set for herself in the Gilead novels. The first several pages had me disappointed – Lila in a setting very different from the Gilead I’d come to feel I knew very well – and then the lights switched on: it became clear to me that the point of Lila is that she has no history. At best, she has snatches of memory, but they’re deeply personal, without names that have consequence. (The name she takes is a mistake, an accidental appropriation of the first name of the woman who kidnaps her as a child, and at least one later person thinks she is Norwegian because of it.) She is, in other words, a blank book.
That’s an intriguing premise on its own, and Robinson does some striking things with it. Lila has so little sense of who she is or where she’s been that she has to discover, almost in literal fashion (as she learns its name only late in childhood) the United States of America. She is a latecomer who is also a native, someone unmistakably of the nation and yet needing to learn bit by bit what that means. And she does that learning through her early travels and through her later conversations with Ames over the Bible. She is, again almost literally, a child of God, someone profoundly innocent and yet perpetually threatened by the world.
I’d call that a success on its own terms if that all this were. Put it in conversation with Gilead, though, and it’s mind-blowing. To my eyes at least, Gilead is the story of a man trying to negotiate a too-thick history surrounding him. He has to try to live up to the legacy of his abolitionist grandfather, a man who has almost certainly committed murder in the name of freeing the slaves, and the simultaneous legacy of his pacifist father who rejected that violence. Ames has lived too long in his town, outlived all that originally defined him with the sole exception of Boughton, his life-long friend and fellow minister. They have had a deep and rich friendship (and that friendship is one of the great literary inventions I’ve come across in at least the last decade) but it has always been framed through text, through their shared and diverging senses of what scripture tells them to do in this odd post-World War II world.
Anyway, Ames is a man steeped in history, a man so aware of it – and simultaneously so aware of his imminent departure from it through death – that he creates a manuscript to record it for his son who is as yet too young to learn it firsthand. He cannot escape text, even as he understands himself to be slowly dying; he writes of his life for his son, a life so steeped in history that he can’t frame it through the experience of his own personal history.
When you put those two into conversation – Gilead and Lila – it becomes the same story told with entirely different premises, one so dependent on history it can’t understand itself without it and the other so empty of history that it cannot initially find its bearings. Throw in the terrific ethical complications of Home, where we learn that Ames, while still deeply intent on being a good man, has not always managed to be the decent person his full faith calls him to be. (I’m giving Home short shrift; it’s as beautiful as the others, and it negotiates history more at the level of the family and the community rather than in the generational scope of Gilead or the narrowly personal of Lila.)
As if all that weren’t enough, Ames is such a staggering decent and ethical presence that he finds a way to enter into conversation with Lila in a way that is not condescending. In an America of Biblical literalists who claim direct access to the divine – and who have more or less successfully hijacked the mantle of the great mainline Protestant traditions that built so much of the American ethic – Ames comes across as almost too good to be true: a man whose deep self-doubt is only barely conquered by his even deeper religious faith.
He discovers a belated chance at happiness in his meeting with Lila, and he makes the most of it, redeeming her from the mystery of her childhood and the ignorance of history. He does so only slowly and imperfectly, and only through his inspiring patience and love. In all, he comes across as a latter day Protestant saint, one of those quiet and pious people unsullied by sanctimony, who, always rare, would be nearly unrecognizable in an America that treats religion as a checklist of socio-political positions or, worse, a badge of unassailable license to judge others.
There’s a greatness in Ames, and it rubs off on all who enter his orbit. He isn’t perfect, but the beauty of his faith is that he recognizes that sooner and more deeply than anyone else. I find Gilead and Lila together echoing one of my favorite novels of all time, Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, for the way it makes a good man’s faith something palpable in a world that can barely recognize it.
Bottom line, Robinson has really done it. If she isn’t the greatest American writer of the moment, then I don’t know who is. (Maybe, still, the very different Jonathan Lethem?)
The narrator was excellent!
Everything. She did each voice perfectly!
It was good…no extremes.
I highly recommend.
The language used is lovely, lilting and evocative and the characters are well drawn.That said, I absolutely hated the way the narrative jumped with the life span of the main character and also the lack of rationale behind many of the characters' actions. None of this book made sense to me. I want more rationality and less mysticism and preaching in my novels. Yes, this book is filled with Christian talk and references which I understand but do not appreciate. This would have been a great novel but Robinson needed to share with me some of the motivations behind her characters. I'm no slacker - I majored in English Lit in college and graduated with Honors, etc. This just wasn't my cup of literary tea.
Seems like this book is fairly typical of Ms. Robinson's books and, as such, I would not choose to read another book by her.
No, this was the first novel by Ms. Hoffman for me.
Nope. It would be boring as heck.
This novel kind of reminded me of the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez which I also detest. If you like him, you might like this novel as well.
Lila is written with subtle brilliance.
It is not to be missed. The recording is excellent. As good as Gilead.
"Wonderful novel, brilliant production"
This is the most amazing book! It took a while to work out the structure, but the story pulls you in, and the characters are so believable. Most of the story is just the relationship between a young woman and her much older husband, but it is so well portrayed, I didn't want to get to the end! Now I've just bought 'Gilead' for the next part of the story. Cannot rate highly enough.
The reader is perfect, with the right American accent, and a super way of carrying you along. Fascinating insight into a way of life that is so different from my own.
This is superb writing: the characters of Lila and the preacher beautifully drawn with a depth of insight that sometimes takes your breath away. What a way to learn about and understand history. The carefully nuanced reading for audible sympathetic and engaging. I highly recommend this wonderful book.
"Robinson ever disappoints"
Among the best
The gentleness of the text belies the strength and depth of the storyline and characters. Wonderful language, superb writing
She made me believe she WAS Lila! I never grew impatient despite the sometimes slow pace of the novel - that can be a problem with some novels as audios.
Whenever the 'old man' spoke to Lila, especially when he confessed his own doubts about religious matters / biblical dicta. He is such a humble, lovable character. I want to meet him!
Please can this become a (well-made) film?
"Difficult to follow"
I had never heard of this author before but read it as on the Man Booker Prize Longlist.
The book has quite a religious and spiritual element to it focusing on the meaning of life and living. It is set in Gilead Iowa. Researching the author I see she is an intellectual thinker who has worked at the University of Iowa for some years. She is a follower of the thinking of John Calvin. This book is perhaps a place where she expresses her religious beliefs.
The focus of this work is on Lila who is quite a feral creature. She is a vagrant working her way throughout Iowa. The book explores how her life is touched by strangers she meets along the way. Lila does not know her origins as she was taken as a small child by a woman called ‘Doll’ who stated she rescued her from neglect. I was hoping this would be explored further but alas no. I now believe this book is part three of a trilogy with a previous book called ‘Gilead’. I wish I had known this as I felt lost with the story. It was difficult to get into the narrative. I found understanding what was going on difficult at times. What happened to Lila’s mother and her early life? I was unsure if the Reverend would die or if Lila would go off with the child. Maybe there will be a follow on book to this one explaining all this.
The author seems to have a great fondness for the poor and writes about the difficulties of a hand to mouth experience. The relationship between the Reverend John Ames and Lila seems to be a strange one. He is an old man and yet they seem to develop a bond and marry. Lila gets pregnant and has a son knowing she will probably have to bring him up alone due to her husband’s advancing years. We see the progression of their lives with their growing love and respect for each other. Reverend Ames tries to reconcile his faith with the poverty of his flock. This struggle is explored through the beautiful poetic prose and sensitively told by the narrative of Maggie Hoffman. This is a sad book but the use of language lifts it. I did enjoy it but feel somewhat perplexed by it all. I do not know if I would pick up another book by this author.
Great to hear Lila's narrative. Moving as always and still enthralled by Ames and how good he strives to be.
"Gentle and contemplative"
The beautiful prose of Marylyn Robinson, and her effortless story telling.
I would like to say one of her other books but I already have read them all! The three others, Gilead, Housekeeping and Home, and I have to say are wonderful, and I just didn't enjoy this one so much. The story didn't work, I didn't quite believe it, it had a contrived feel to it, and I was very much aware of the fact that it had to fit in with the previous two books which involved the same characters. However, I enjoyed the simple storytelling telling.
No I have not, so can't say.
Well I certainly not going to start reading he bible or go to church! But maybe to live life in a simpler way.
Hope Marylynne Robinson will bring out another novel soon.
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