Customer Reviews: Peace Like a River
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on November 19, 2001
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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on November 4, 2001
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."). And much more. Enger, obviously bursting with knowledge, makes these references out of a need and a love to inform and in the process inbues his characters with these same qualities ( As a contrast,in "American Psycho," Bret Easton Ellis makes ten times as many cultural references than does Enger but the effect is showy,coy and ultimately boring). There is also great Love and caring in "Peace Like a River." The Land's truly love each other with the kind of love that accepts, forgives and annoints themselves and each other as in holy communion.
"Peace Like A River" is energetic, magical and beautifully written in a style that can only be called gorgeous: "Was there ever a place you loved to go--your grandma's house, where you were a favorite child...and you arrived once as she lay in sickness? Remember how the light seemed wrong, and the adults off-key and the ambient and persistent joy you'd grown to expect in that place was gone, slipped off as the ghost slips the body?" "Peace like a River" can now take it's place among the pantheon of similar-themed novels: Barry Udall's "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes." Pretty good company...if you ask me.
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on May 26, 2002
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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on April 18, 2006
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. And if you can't swallow so much "in your face" religion, you'll simply have to find something to read out of the very slim pool of books that share your exact convictions.

To recap - don't spend your last cent on this, but if you can get a hold of this book and a free sunny weekend, don't pass up the chance! You'll enjoy something fairly easy and unfailingly beautiful.
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on December 5, 2001
My lands, this Leif Enger fellow can compose a sentence! The opening pages alone had me convinced I was plunging into something special, something beyond the usual bounds of predictable fiction.
"Peace Like a River" is a classic in the grand tradition, which means it's beautiful, ageless, and...yes, a bit slow-moving. Enger's narrator, young Jeremiah Land, tells his story with remarkable verbosity, initially inspiring awe, later doubt, finally belief. Enger risks all by shooting for the heavens, and, for the most part, he succeeds.
The story, set in the Midwest in the early 60s, follows the motherless Land family. The youngest son, Jeremiah, communicates the story of the struggles they face when the oldest son goes to trial for murder. His fate, and the family's along with him, take turns that are unpredictable while strangely inevitable. Peopled with memorable characters, "Peace Like a River" reminded me more than once of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the more recent "This Rock," both coming-of-age type tales set in rural America. Enger's characters, however, while imminently touchable, seem also larger than life...The father speaks face-to-face with God; the daughter is a poet beyond her years (almost to the point of stretching belief); the youngest son views life through asthmatic afflictions and the self-centeredness of a child. Somehow, these people draw the reader into events both moving and miraculous. But, along the way, the story does begin to meander, to lose some of its luster. Some might even want to head for shore and stop reading altogether.
Don't do it. By the end, "Peace Like a River" chooses its course and sets sail for distant lands. There are sentences here that'll make you laugh, that'll take your breath away, that'll open your eyes anew. In particular, the second to last chapter is an awe-inspiring vision of those first steps toward eternity.
Enough said. You'll have to take this voyage for yourself.
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on February 26, 2002
Though this story takes place in the 1960's it has the feel of a book that is lost in time, so far removed from The Beatles, Viet Nam and anything but "groovy" it ranks as a winner in it's own category. Roofing, Minnesota is a small town in the middle of America and the Land family is about to feel the aftermath and turmoil of a violent act that will take one of it's members on a run for his freedom. In the back of the reader's mind is the not so questionable guilt of the runner.
The main characters are unforgettable and grow close to your heart paragraph by paragraph. Jeremiah Land is an extraordinary man with a gift from God that will simply amaze and entertain you. I found myself thinking, "How could that be?" Reuben is our narrator, and his 11 year old asthmatic son, was a miracle from birth, when his father took him in hand after 10 minutes of death, and holding him up demanded he live and breath. Swede the younger daughter writes stories and poetry like an angel and Davy who is at the center of the controversy will all have you entranced.
Beautifully written, with a peace that runs through it true to it's name PEACE LIKE A RIVER will have you engrossed with the lives of it's characters from start to finish.
Kelsana 2/26/02
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VINE VOICEon October 11, 2002
'Peace Like a River' is an excellent book club selection. There are so many aspects of it that cry out for discussion. How does Davy's life on the lam compare with Swede's 'Legend of Sunny Sundown'? Why does Reuben Land's father use his miraculous abilities to cure the man who fires him but not his own son? Are Jeremiah Land and Jape Waltzer symbolic representations of
God and Satan? Does Reuben's nickname, 'Rube', mean Leif Enger wants us to him as an unsophisticated yokel?
Most of the book reads like a cool drink of water. It's refreshing and goes down easy. Seen through the innocent eyes of children a story with lots of room for gray areas is portrayed mostly in shades of black and white. As a child, Reuben understands goodness and so describes Roxanna's goodness in rich detail. His understanding of evil is not so complete and so his description of Jape is sketchy at best. We know there's something evil about him. We're just not exactly sure what it is.
One final question that merits discussion is, 'Why the lame ending?' Don't get me wrong. Fore the most part, the book is great. It's just that I've seen drunkards' zippers with more closure. With Swede and all her western romanticism, one would think that that there would be something at the end akin to riding off into the sunset. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
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What a joyful, powerful and well-told tale! This book is so well written, it seems to flow like a river. I enjoyed the calmness of the way the story was told. Since it was related by a grown Ruben about childhood events, we feel the loving way the story unfolds. The chapter near the end "Be Jubilant, My Feet" is one of the most beautifully written pieces about a journey into the mystic that I have read. I particularly enjoyed the certain calmness of Jeremiah's faith that anchors the story and characters. This made the story real for me: the way faith doesn't keep you from hardship, but sees you through it. My only quibble is about what isn't in the book -- what kind of mother would leave her children to marry a posh doctor and not return when they are otherwise orphaned? I loved the sense of journey in this book, that life is a path peopled by wonderful folks like sister Swede and Roxana. I believed the minor characters such as the bullies whose demise ignite the action, Mr. Lurvy the mooching salesman and Mr. Holgren the pompous principal. Each of these are perfect small town portraits. The sense of place in the Dakota badlands transports you there. "Peace Like a River" is truly a special book, one you will not want to miss.
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I had been hesitant to read this novel due to the many reviews which described it as a story about religion. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is NOT about religion; rather, it is a compelling tale with a partial focus on faith but a major focus on family. The story is narrated by 11-year old Reuben, who vividly brings to life his precocious younger sister, Swede, his stubborn older brother, Davy, and, at the heart of the family, his unrelentingly faithful father, Jeremiah Land.

This novel is set in 1963, and it reminded me of other tales of earlier eras such as the classic To Kill a Mockingbird and the more recent The Poisonwood Bible. But Peace Like a River was different from these other works in that it contains very little tragedy: even when bad events occur in the story, they are viewed through a filter of the miraculous. Ultimately, this is an uplifting, engaging first novel that is likely to appeal to readers who enjoy stories of hope, faith, and all that is positive in life; if you enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees, you're apt to like this one too.
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on November 21, 2001
I read...a lot. This is perhaps the best work I've seen in the last five years. His characters come alive, his story moves in unexpected ways and best yet- you realy care how it will turn out for them. The story is told through the honest/naive/wise eyes of the 11 year old boy who both fears for and worships his family. The Lands are the kind of people you think you know from somewhere or wish you did. The author has an wonderous way with dialoge and you find yourself stoping to re-read some lyrical passages as one would savor expensive chocolate.
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