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The Pilgrim Hardcover – November 1, 2011
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Nissenson, acclaimed for his powerful narratives (The Days of Awe; The Tree of Life), here shows the tight grip of religious devotion on one young man's mind... History, politics, faith, and daily life all come together in a strong story.
"Nissenson's latest (The Days of Awe, 2005, etc.) is a marvelously intimate look back through time. Charles' fears and desires are made quite believable as he recalls the everyday horrors of the time-and the bits of Scripture that both justified and aggravated them. And while the young protagonist earnestly seeks salvation, his all-too-human failings-such as when he and the pretty Abigail Winslow flirt on the Sabbath-make him as sympathetic as any young striver since Holden Caulfield. The author's return to historical fiction raises human questions with immediacy and flair."
Nissenson has penned a bleak, unsparing novel, peopled with flawed humans and accurate period details.
The Pilgrim is such a delightful find. Hugh Nissenson's moody, intelligent novel is about a tormented English Puritan who strikes out for the Plymouth Plantation in 1622... It conjures up that dangerous black magic spell that the most powerful historical novels cast: The Pilgrim makes us feel that, even if this version of the past isn't quite accurate, this is the version we wholeheartedly believe - at least for the space of reading."
Nissenson spins a compelling historical tale steeped in the religious and cultural customs of the original Puritans... The authentically rendered first-person perspective that propels the narrative illuminates both Wentworth's prolonged dark night of the soul and his daily trials and experiences.
"The reader is transported back to the earliest days of the settling of America by the sworn statement of one Charles Wentworth, who came to Plymouth soon after the Mayflower landing. The powerful influence of religion and the church is portrayed through his struggles with both his humanity and his faith, as Charles mourns the tragic loss of his betrothed while at the same time reveling in the death of the 'savages' who must be conquered to create a safe new home. This is a great work of historical fiction"
"Hugh Nissenson's vision of a re-created society and ethos is remarkable, the language crafted out of plainness and purity a plainness and purity which, both in the individual phrase and cumulatively, rise to majesty. The Pilgrim is a masterwork of fierceness, insight, inhabitation, and relentless power." -Cynthia Ozick, author of Foreign Bodies
"A lustrous recreation. Hugh Nissenson has taken the ore of research and transmuted it into the gold of art. The Pilgrim is impossible to put
down until the final words. And then they continue to carom endlessly in the mind." -Stefan Kanfer, author of Tough Without a Gun (recent Bogart bio), Ball of Fire (Lucille Ball bio), Groucho
"Hugh Nissenson's The Pilgrim is a startling, beautiful, numinous prose-poem about the founding of our country. It will surely be enshrined forever in the canon of American literature." -Johanna Kaplan, O My America!, Other People's Lives
About the Author
Hugh Nissenson is the author of eight books, including The Days of Awe. His novel The Tree of Life was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN-Faulkner Award in 1985. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
"I shall write in a plain style and tell the truth as near as I am able. I will confess to being an accessory to the hanging of my beloved friend Zachariah Rigdale at Wessagusset, and I will include an account of my sinful life before and after it."
If you aren't tempted by that, then you're no fan of historical fiction.
Nissensen does indeed write in "a plain style". Much of it reads like a Wikipedia article, giving the straight facts of life in London and the colonies. The Wiki feel includes passages of dialogue, with characters explaining how they built a stockade and what they did for a living. That doesn't mean it's boring or pedantic. On the contrary, Nissensen manages to evoke the time and places in the story without embellishment or literary tricks. He gives us a wealth of detail but the details never bog down the story, which moves at a fast clip.
The book follows Charles Wentworth from 17th century England to the colonies. He's a divinity student, studying Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and hoping to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister. Then he's a farmer, working for his uncle, from whom he stands to inherit, and it appears he'll have an easy life. Things change, people die, and Charles is off to the colonies, seeking salvation. Through it all, Charles is a good man, but in his world, being good isn't enough -- he has to know he's right with God.
As Corrigan says in her review: "The great achievement of The Pilgrim is the way it fully transports us readers into a Puritan universe informed by the idea of predestination: a world where a decent guy like Charles is anguished every day by the mystery of whether he is saved or damned; a world I'm thankful to read about and thankful not to live in."
One thing about the book that might be off-putting is the (seeming) stilted dialogue, full of "hath" and "thy" and "alas". I found myself thinking "Did people really talk like that?" In the end, it doesn't matter. Like Corrigan, I was transported.
Is there anything better than discovering a new great author?
An Episode of Grace
Stories of a Southern Baptist town somewhere west of the Atlantic and east of the Mississippi predominate in this remarkable collection. Rooms in the houses that the reader enters are as small and angry and threadbare as the lives lived inside them, that is, until McCullough Moore waves a wand of tenderness over them. Other unrelated stories are scattered throughout. An unhappy wife imagines soccer players on the beach to be prisoners having an airing. Members of an AA group fantasize a cache of booze. A wife and husband who lost a baby speak of this death without actually mentioning it. And throughout, McCullough Moore’s wit and insight drew from this reader both laughter and tears.