Once I find an author I like, I find all of his/her books and read away like a crazy person. I never expected to say that of Willa Cather. But seriously: she’s The Best.
Death Comes for the Archbishop covers the saga of bringing the Catholic faith to the American Southwest through the eyes of French bishop, Jean Latour and his best friend Joseph Vaillant. They endure hardships, uncharted territory, language barriers, and cultural barriers to bring church to the Mexicans and Indians living in the Southwest. Though they have difference of personality and opinion, theirs is a friendship that endures for over 40 years until death comes calling.
It’s really hard to describe *why* this book spoke to me. It’s quite a simple plot, but Cather’s characterization is vivid and evocative. She makes the Bishop and Father Vaillant interesting and complex characters, and she peoples the novel with other interesting characters who are unforgettable and add richness to the story.
One of the best parts of the novel is the friendship between two men. Theirs is a companionship that is both comfortable and challenging. They’re honest and at the same time, supportive and understanding of each other as people. When we get to the part towards the end of their lives, I confess, I got a bit choked up.
Whether or not you are a person of faith, this book is an intriguing commentary on how we perceive and enact our beliefs. When we get into the bishop’s head, we see his own doubts about his life’s work and how faith will mean something different to himself and the people he is trying to reach. It’s a novel interested in how we interact with faith, but it lacks the frenzy of a Kool-Aid drinker, as well as the ambivalence that peppers Graham Greene’s writing about Catholicism. I am not Catholic myself, but as a person of faith, I found myself deeply moved by the descriptions of devotion and faith in the novel.