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Peace Like a River Paperback – August 20, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

To the list of great American child narrators that includes Huck Finn and Scout Finch, let us now add Reuben "Rube" Land, the asthmatic 11-year-old boy at the center of Leif Enger's remarkable first novel, Peace Like a River. Rube recalls the events of his childhood, in small-town Minnesota circa 1962, in a voice that perfectly captures the poetic, verbal stoicism of the northern Great Plains. "Here's what I saw," Rube warns his readers. "Here's how it went. Make of it what you will." And Rube sees plenty.

In the winter of his 11th year, two schoolyard bullies break into the Lands' house, and Rube's big brother Davy guns them down with a Winchester. Shortly after his arrest, Davy breaks out of jail and goes on the lam. Swede is Rube's younger sister, a precocious writer who crafts rhymed epics of romantic Western outlawry. Shortly after Davy's escape, Rube, Swede, and their father, a widowed school custodian, hit the road too, swerving this way and that across Minnesota and North Dakota, determined to find their lost outlaw Davy. In the end it's not Rube who haunts the reader's imagination, it's his father, torn between love for his outlaw son and the duty to do the right, honest thing. Enger finds something quietly heroic in the bred-in-the-bone Minnesota decency of America's heartland. Peace Like a River opens up a new chapter in Midwestern literature. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a North Dakota winter, a novel about faith, miracles and family that is, ultimately, miraculous.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; Reprint edition (August 20, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139252
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (808 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Charles F. Brim on November 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Within a few paragraphs of begining Leif Enger's "Peace Like a River", I had to stop and smile and turn the book over to read Frank McCourt's("Angela's Ashes")comments on the back one more time. I looked again at the cover and title that had drawn me to the book for a quick read of the jacket and then back a second time to buy it. I thought of the world I had just entered through the hand of Mr. Enger and Reuben, his self-effacing and often winded eleven year old narrator. I reread some lines that set the place and time as rural Minnesota in the 1950's and I thought of the father, Jerimiah, whose plain as cotton faith is the engine of the Land family's journey. The misfortune and drama that tracks their wifeless, motherless world was compelling and vivid, like Ruben's writing prodigy sister Swede's Old West poetry. I flat-out love this book and it's "To Kill A Monkingbird"-like simplicity and power. I've sung a few old hymns in the style and substance I think Leif Enger would appreciate. In a way, reading his story was like that - comforting and profound with familiar themes masterfully played. "Peace Like A River" has, in one reading, become my most admired work of fiction, and easily one of the ten best books I've read. Ever.
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363 of 391 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on November 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've had to re-write this review three times because the first drafts made me sound like a gushing, blushing school girl. That's how enamored of this novel I am. Leif Enger's "Peace Like A River" is the story of the Land family set in the early 1960's in rural Minnesota: Jeremiah the father, Davy the eldest son, Reuben, 11 yrs old and the novel's narrator, and Swede, daughter and sister, verse writer and an "Old West" afficianado. The story itself is simple: Davy kills two young men who have broken into the Land home, is put on trial for murder and escapes jail when it seems he is to be convicted. Obviously this turns the Land Family upside down and the bulk of the novel is concerned with finding Davy and forging, through necessity, a new life for all. The novel begins with the birth of Reuben, who appears stillborn until Jeremiah enters the operating room: "As mother cried out. Dad turned back to me, a clay child wrapped in a canvas coat, and said in a normal voice, "Reuben Land, in the name of the living God I am telling you to breathe." And so begins the first of the "miracles" which occur throughout this novel. And no, this is not a religious novel per se though faith is very important to the Land family, Jeremiah is particular. And Leif Enger is not only concerned with the hereafter, he's also very aware of the here and now. I've never read a novel that mentions, explains, makes reference to such a disparate set of characters: Teddy Roosevelt, God, Jesus, Butch Cassidy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bob and Cole Younger, Jesse James,Swanson chicken-in-a-can, "Moby Dick," Lewis and Clark, Moses, Natty Bumppo, Jonah ("...such a griper. Whine all day. Probably God sent the whale so He could get three days of peace and quiet.").Read more ›
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on May 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Is it a copout to simply say that this book is perfectly written? It seems trite to say that, and yet this is as close to perfection as writing gets. I confess that I often worry, when I am in the early pages of a good book, that the author will eventually commit a fatal error - be it an ill-advised plot twist, an illogical character development, a stylistic lapse - and the book will fall to the realm of mediocrity. After all, the fact that an author produces 100 pages of exceptional work is no guarantee that the next 100 pages will be equally as good. But Peace Like A River was so masterfully written that it seemed guaranteed from the first page to fulfill its promise. Absorbed in Lief Enger's prose, I felt as safe as a newborn in his mother's arms.
Chosen as this year's Book Sense Book of the Year, yet inexplicably overlooked by more prestigious literary awards, this is certainly one of the best first novels every written. Set against a beautifully painted backdrop of the badlands of North Dakota, it is the story of the Land family and their search for moral redemption. Jeremiah, the father, performer of frequent inexplicable miracles and good deeds; Reuben, the 11-year-old narrator, whose chronic lung problems make the simple act of breathing a central task in his life; Swede, the 9-year-old daughter, prolific writer of epic poetry; and Davy, the independent, confident 16-year-old who is jailed for a crime for which the moral justification is easy to accept. When Davy escapes from jail, his family journeys in search of him. Each, in his own way, struggles with the painful dilemma of whether to protect their fugitive loved one or help the authorities track him down. It is a powerful tell of love and of the seemingly infinite gray area between right and wrong.
Lief Enger deserves more than just a prize for this novel. He deserves a heartfelt hug from every reader who is captured by the power, beauty, and feeling of human redemption that he has produced.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful By K. Henry on April 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
Yes, I know I only gave it three, but I'm picking. It was not a bad book at all, and I will be rereading. The book is not great, but it's pretty darn good.

It's in the same crowd as novels like Sue Monk Kidd's and quite a few others lately involving child narrators - one of the most exceptional of the genre. The details and description, though never overdone, are spot-on. And Jeremiah Land is a single father who rivals Atticus Finch (though I'm not comparing this book to "To Kill a Mockingbird" on any other grounds).

I note someone complained about Swede. I don't entirely agree that it's impossible for some children to have such an aptitude for English. I do agree that the author was rather annoyingly doting about her. But she's entirely made up for by her brother Reuben. His scene in the courtroom where his pride gets the best of him, among other scenes, entirely nails a sense of childishness and the sort of petty, ridiculous pride that none of us ever completely shake off.

I also noted one person say the book was too religious and another say that it wasn't religious but "spiritual." Well, the latter view is nonsense. Religion - dyed-in-the-wool, unabashed, prevalent Christiantiy, of the American Protestant brand - is one of the major themes of the book. That being said, I can rebut the first person's view of it being "too religious." You might as well say "To Kill a Mockingbird" is "too concerned about white-black relationships," or "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" is "too fatalistic." You may be annoyed by the theme, but that's what the book is about - it's the very backbone of it. If you think it should be less religious, you're asking it to be an entirely different book.
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