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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent ... but is it a Novel?
Willa Cather admitted that it was misleading to describe this as a novel; she preferred to call it a 'narrative', unfolding at a leisurely pace, gently, one thing after another, much as the years pass in real life. I didn't know this when I started reading - having skipped the introduction, they never make much sense until you've read the book - and at first it puzzled me...
Published on 16 Mar 2010 by booksetc

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3.0 out of 5 stars Cather moves on from pioneer women to pioneer catholic archbishop as. central figure
A novel from the second half of Cather's life, this is about a 19th century archbishop and his companion and brother priest establishing their mission in New Mexico. It has many of Cather's strengths - a real sense of place, of human relationships and a sound grasp of incident, or rather as she hersel says in her introduction of tableaux such as occur in lives of the...
Published 20 months ago by William Jordan


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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent ... but is it a Novel?, 16 Mar 2010
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
Willa Cather admitted that it was misleading to describe this as a novel; she preferred to call it a 'narrative', unfolding at a leisurely pace, gently, one thing after another, much as the years pass in real life. I didn't know this when I started reading - having skipped the introduction, they never make much sense until you've read the book - and at first it puzzled me and I was waiting for something to 'happen.' Now I realise what a masterly writer she is, how powerfully she has conveyed the sense of time passing and two long and fruitful lives lived out against a background of profound cultural changes in New Mexico.
In 1851 two young French missionaries are dispatched to this New World to reawaken a Catholicism that had been neglected/corrupted in the three centuries since it was first introduced by Spanish conquistadores. In fact, they are only loosely fictionalised; the Archbishop and his friend Father Vaillant were based on two real pioneering churchmen. Cather makes us feel we know them intimately: Vaillant, the man of the people, the Archbishop, cultivated and more reserved ...their friendship, their loneliness, their religious passion.
And what a landscape Cather paints for us in New Mexico. The carnelian-coloured hills, the mesa towns, the adobe houses: 'Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!' And all this being encroached upon by America.
The more I think about this book, the more I realise what a masterpiece it is ... I can't recommend it highly enough, but it is a book to be savoured in one's middle years; I do hope it's not foisted prematurely onto school students.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roman Catholic Church and New Mexico, 31 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
This was a book selected for our reading group.
I have spent some time in Mexico in recent years as my daughter was living there. I loved learning more about the history and tried to imagine what an alien world tne protagonists were working in. I found the book to be very well written with some real content and I have already recommended it to another reading group
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A meditative piece on ministry, 19 Mar 2012
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R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
Last year I read and very much enjoyed 'My Antonia' and 'O, Pioneers' by Willa Cather, two novels about frontier farming communities in early America. Death Comes For The Archbishop is again historically placed within America's early years as a nation, this time from the perspective of two Catholic priests who are sent out to minister to the community of New Mexico an eclectic mix of White Americans, Native Americans and Mexican immigrants.

The tale of Bishop De La Tour and his curate Father Vaillant is told episodically. One chapter will deal with a wealthy couple supportive of the church, another with an abused wife, another with dealings with the Native American community.

Overarching this is friendship of the two priests themselves, who in many ways only have each other.

The pace of the book is more meditative than slow, with good portraits of situations and people. I think that it gives a good idea of what it might be like to be a priest. Which as Willa Cather was not one, is an achievement.

The book is fairly short, so there's not a lot to say about it, except I found it poetic and enjoyed the experience of that era and of reading it. 7/10
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4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 15 Jan 2013
This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
Through one man's story, Willa Cather fashions a thumbprint history of Santa Fé, New Mexico and its environs.

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" takes place in the mid-19th Century, but hundreds of years'-worth of prior events are brought to life in the famed scribe's limped prose.

The short novel recounts the life of Father Jean Marie LaTour, a fictional (?) French Jesuit, woven into the fabric of New Mexican lore as he rubs soldiers with scout and Indian killer Kit Carson, jousts with the Catholic poo-bah in Taos, Father Antonio Jose Martínez, and others peopling the time and region.

The title is a misnomer. The story is one of LaTour's entire missionary life, with memories of a youth in France thrown in for some Old World/New World contrast. His death comes only at the end, and without much surprise.

This yarn is episodic, and moves from the mid-1800s to the later ones in fits and starts, zig-zags, backs-and-forths, but for all that, has a sense of being at least mildly woven.

It is not a classic narrative that develops and reaches a climax. It is, simply, the life of a man moving among the notable and not so notable of old New Mexico, expending energy in his particular calling, gathering experience and enduring hardship until his own ending, unhappy as it is for us all.

highwayscribery took "Death Comes to the Archbishop" on a recent trip to New Mexico and it served, eighty-something years later, as a marvelous tour guide because the state's history is hammered into (and out of) its landscape and everywhere places or features detailed in Cather's book jump out at you.

Her descriptions of the land are dead-on. Early in the story, LaTour approaches his destination. The reader is with him:

"As the wagons went forward and the sun sank lower, a sweep of red carnelian-coloured hills lying at the foot of the mountains came into view; they curved like two arms about a depression in the plain; and in that depression was Santa Fé, at last! A thin wavering adobe town...green plaza...at one end of a church with two earthen towers that rose high above the flatness. The long main street began at the church, the town seemed to flow fro it like a stream from a spring."

A spring that flowed into the author's heart like manna and unto the bookish and adventurous alike, for decades after.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Death Comes to the Archbishop, 14 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
For anyone like myself whose knowledge and familiarity with the life and customs of the Native American Indian is based on the exciting "cowboy and Indian" Western, this book is an eye-opener. It describes in beautiful, even poetic prose, the landscape of the South west of the USA in the days just after the founding of New Mexico through the eyes of the early Catholic Missionaries trying, despite horrendous physical and cultural difficulties, to resurrect Catholicism in the pueblos and cities of this vast expanse of unwelcoming landscape. We meet Navajo and Apache and other native America and Mexican people as people and human being with their own culture, sometimes diluted with Christianity first introduced some 2-300 years before. Each chapter, though in an ordered narrative, is often, in fact, a separate episode or story. A riveting and, at times, a poignant read
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3.0 out of 5 stars Cather moves on from pioneer women to pioneer catholic archbishop as. central figure, 9 Nov 2012
This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
A novel from the second half of Cather's life, this is about a 19th century archbishop and his companion and brother priest establishing their mission in New Mexico. It has many of Cather's strengths - a real sense of place, of human relationships and a sound grasp of incident, or rather as she hersel says in her introduction of tableaux such as occur in lives of the saints.

I miss, though. the pioneers and pioneer spirit of her earlier works and their unforgettable portraits of determined strong pioneer women.
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4.0 out of 5 stars One to savour, 18 Jun 2012
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sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
Beautifully written account of two French missionaries sent out to 1850s New Mexico. Based on actual priests, we follow Bishop Latour and his friend Father Vaillant as they enter a hostile environment - drought, lax and corrupt Catholic clergy, mysterious Indian religions, and the vast distances that make up their 'great diocese'.
Ever travelling and only meeting up on occasions, the two nonetheless rely on one another: one of the most touching parts is when Father Vaillant is setting off to the distant Colorado goldfields and his bishop tells him he should take both their mules.
' "They have a great affection for each other; why separate them indefinitely? One could not explain to them. They have worked long together."
Father Vaillant made no reply. He stood looking intently at the pages of his letter. The Bishop saw a drop of water splash down upon the violet script and spread.'

Cather's narrative is brought to life by poetic descriptions of the desert landscape, and moments of the priests' recollections of their former lives in the Auvergne. It's not a novel as such but is one to savour.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "... a feeling that old age did not weigh so heavily upon a man in New Mexico...,, 13 Jan 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
...as in the Puy-de-Dome." And "In New Mexico he always awoke a young man..." Wishful thinking perhaps, but just those two sentence fragments, on page 272, seem to be sufficient reason for reading this excellent novel. For all those folks "back East," Cather's novel involves the "other history of America," not the Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, 13 colonies version, but one that actually predates those events, the Spanish settlement of the southwest from Mexico. The time period of the novel is the mid-1800's, the central character is Father Jean Marie Latour, who is modeled on Bishop Lamy. The Vatican had made a decision that the decadent life of all too many Spanish priests in the Southwest, openly cohabitating with their "housekeepers," needed some serious reformation, and so they recruited a priest from the most austere area of France, the Auvergne.

Willa Cather tells the story with clear, lucid prose, with occasional rhetorical flourishes. Each chapter is a largely self-contained story. I consider this novel better than her somewhat more famous novel on the settling of the plains, My Antonio Some of Cather's insights are extremely relevant today; consider the following from page 290: "For many years Father Latour used to wonder if there would ever be an end to the Indian wars while there was one Navajo or Apache left alive. Too many traders and manufacturers made a rich profit out of that warfare; a political machine and immense capital were employed to keep it going." Yes, the current apostles of endless war have numerous antecedents.

I felt there was an historical bias in the chapter entitled "The Mass at Acoma." Father Latour wonders about the impetus to the construction of the church there, and says: "Powerful men they must have been, those Spanish Fathers, to draft Indian labour for this great work without military support." Of course the year Cather wrote these words was 1927, so it is unlikely that the Indians were providing "tourist tours" of their stunning mesa then. I've been there several times over the last few years, being guided by the recently departed "Orlando," who tells a far harsher version of these events, including the military support provided by Onate, the amputation of the right foot of the men, and the forced labour of the women to carry the trees from far off Mt. Taylor.

But still, the central thrust of the book is Latour's life, his vision of reformation of the personnel of the Catholic Church, and his concepts of leadership of the parishioners. Cather's characterization of him, many decades later, rings true. A good companion volume which deals with some of the same themes is Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory (Vintage Classics) Anyone who stands in the northeast corner of the square in Sante Fe, looks north towards Lamy's not quite finished church, at least his vision of it, should be inspired to read the best version of events we are likely to have, Cather's book. It is highly recommended.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on January 26, 2009)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the Title, 21 May 2011
This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
The only complaint I have about this novel is its title - it is likely to put off the people who would most enjoy reading it. It is not a violent melodrama about death - it is a novel based on the life story of two Catholic priests in 19th century New Mexico. This really was the wild west, and it is wonderful to see how 'civilisation' is gradually introduced over their lifetimes. I am not a Catholic, but I am also pleased to see the many good, usually unspectacular things done by the Church get recognition when there is so much emphasis today on the more dramatic bad things.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and evocative, 4 Mar 2011
This review is from: Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) (Paperback)
The actual story of the Franciscan priests who worked as missionaries in nineteenth century New Mexico seems rather disconnected at first - perhaps more a series of short stories than a novel. However, the writing and the evocation of the Western landscape is beautiful and, in the end, you find that Cather has created a haunting tale of this aspect of the founding of modern America.
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Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC)
Death Comes For The Archbishop (VMC) by Willa Cather (Paperback - 7 Sep 2006)
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