viernes, 19 de junio de 2009

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics, 1990)
by Willa Cather
USA, 1927

I haven't had to say this for a while, but I didn't actually care for this book all that much. While far from the worst thing I've read all year, Cather's overrated "classic" about the colonization of New Mexico after its annexation to the United States in 1848 never really clicked with me in any major way. Although I wound up being at least somewhat moved by the portrayal of the lasting friendship between the two French clerics at the heart of the novel, I wouldn't recommend Death Comes for the Archbishop on its storytelling merits alone (Kit Carson, Fray Junípero Serra, and Pope Gregory XVI cameos be damned). The plot is passable but told in a pedestrian manner, the characterization is fairly weak throughout (even the Archbishop himself, famously modeled on Santa Fe's real-life Archbishop Lamy, is more type than character up until the final chapter), and that whole panorama-of-an-era-in-upheaval thing isn't all that convincing compared to a real classic of historical fiction like Di Lampedusa's The Leopard. That being said, this still might be an OK read for anybody curious about the difficulties of missionary work in the 19th-century West, for people interested in learning about the conflicted perceptions of white settlers toward the Mexicans and Native Americans of the region when New Mexico began to be "civilized," and--last but not least--for critics with low standards. Pretty cover, though. (

Willa Cather

For another blogger's take on this novel, please check out Emily's review from Evening All Afternoon.

8 comentarios:

  1. Hola, Richard
    nunca había escuchado hablar de esta escritora. Y lo que retrotraés con el Lampedusa tampoco lo puedo seguir, buah, porque el gatopardo es uno de los libros de literatura italiana del estante que está esperando y solo tengo una vaga idea de lo que trata, aunque el término gatopardismo, al menos eso sé, viene de ahí.
    la literatura histórica, o ficción histórica, no sé bien cómo se dice, no es para nada mi fuerte. siempre me pareció una mierda la literatura histórica, para eso están los ensayos, no? Y la verdad es que los libros de historia, también, tarde o temprano se convierten en ficción.
    Demás está decir que si el libro es una mierda, pues entonces no sé qué más puedo decir. y encima la "civilización de méxico"!
    la verdad es que esta reseña me pone de mal humor. pero no sé qué decir porque bueno, esta autora... estará traducida? probablemente sí, pues toda la mierda que traducen le da espacio a un libro de estas características. estoy hablando al pedo, me doy cuenta. espero que el próximo libro al menos te sea un poco más llevadero.

  2. Hola, Ever:

    Aunque Cather es famosísima en algunos círculos norteamericanos por sus cuentos del Oeste americano, no entiendo el exagerado entusiasmo de sus fanáticos. Su estilo en esta novela es muy conformista, y desgracidamente la obra sí refleja algunos de los valores (el racismo) de su clase en aquella época. El asunto es un poco más complicado que todo esto (por ejemplo, hay personajes claves que aprecian las culturas indígenas y/o mexicanas), pero bueno, es lo que hay.

    En cuanto al género de la ficción histórica, en general no soy aficionado tampoco. Sin obstante, me encantó "Il gattopardo" de Di Lampedusa: una obra con fuerza y alma y una prosa impresionante (incluso en traducción). Eso dicho sea de paso, estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo en cuanto a lo que escribes: ¡"para eso están los ensayos"! En resumen, perdonáme para ponerte de mal humor con esta reseña. Un abrazo.

  3. richard!
    no es por la reseña, sino por este tipo de escritores, lo del mal humor, en fin, no hagas caso.

  4. Thanks for the link, Richard! I agree about Cather's oddly uncompelling narrative style, especially in this book (despite my reservations about it, I thought The Professor's House did, at least, have a more satisfying plot). I recently talked to someone for whom Death Comes for the Archbishop is a favorite novel of all time, and it really made me think about how subjective our responses are to art! I shouldn't be surprised, though; plenty of my all-time favorites are roundly despised by others. Cheers!

  5. I've had that experience a few times in which I read a book everyone's raving about only to end up disappointed. In my case, it was Christian Jungersen's The Exception.

    I do wish there was more out there about the Hispanic culture in the Southwest. We learn American history from such a British-centric lens: starting East and gradually moving West over a wild frontier populated only by primitive Indian tribes. In reality, there had been an Hispanic civilization there for centuries before the Mexican-American War. It just doesn't fit our national mythology.

  6. *Ever: Gracias por la aclaración. En realidad, estaba bromeando un poco con la disculpa, pero olvidé de dejarte la carita feliz. :) ¡Un saludo!

    *Emily: No problem--thank you for letting me share your review! While I agree with you on your point about subjective responses to art, the narrative style in "Death" is so lackadaisical that I'm surprised that anyone could call it a favorite for that reason alone. Weird. Cheers!

    *E.L. Fay: You make a great point about how U.S. history has been taught here in the States. However, your statement about Hispanic culture in the Southwest is even more intriguing to me on a personal level since most things I've read on the subject concern either colonial times or the 20th century (i.e. lots of gaps in between). Guess I better look into that! P.S. Have you ever read Mary Austin's 1903 "The Land of Little Rain"? It's probably most famous as a series of nature essays on the California desert at the turn of the century, but she devotes a fair amount of space to her encounters with Native Americans and Mexicans there (and displays a more "modern" sensibility than the Cather novel's protagonists). Thanks for the visit!

  7. When I read My Antonia last year and had many of the same feelings you express about this book, people suggested I read Death Comes. Now I have no desire to read any of her books. I have read a handful of short stories that I enjoyed but it's difficult for me to read a book that is considered a classic that has "weak characterization."

  8. Trish,

    Not that I needed it, but thanks for the warning about My Antonia! I actually went back and looked up your review on that one, but I suspect that that novel wouldn't have impressed me that much either. Which is kind of a bummer: I like the idea of Cather's subject matter, but I'm not down with the way she handles her characters at all. Anyway, thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your opinion. Cheers!