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Death Comes For the Archbishop
by Willa Cather with an introduction by A.S.Byatt
Publisher:Virago from Gardners
Published:07 September 2006
Originally published in the USA in 1927 by an American writer, this is a fascinating tale of missionary work. Classified by the current UK publisher as fiction, it would today in popular book parlance be called “faction” while the author described it as a “narrative” because it is an account of what really happened but with dialogue which is obviously fictional. It is set in New Mexico in the 1850's at the time when the territory has been taken over by the United States of America. Although the area had at one time been Spanish, when it became American the Roman Catholic Church decided to send French missionaries to reawaken the faith among the local population. This is the story of the Bishop and his missionary priest and their task. A stunning picture of the landscape and its varied peoples emerge, and “reawaken” is the feeling as villagers welcome their visitors and queue for mass baptisms. The priest goes on to work in areas much further afield and the Bishop's diocese expands, ultimately a success story. The writing is gentle but sharply defined, no waste of narrative or dialogue, and the style of missionary work might well be taken on board by people today, gentle, but firm when necessary, and alongside the people. A very different read but a worthwhile one.
Reviewer: Carole Burrows (12/05/36)