If you have never been embraced by a book, read this one. The beauty of its message will surround and comfort you. The writing style is simple and direct in the same way the main character, Lila, is simple and direct. Lila is largely uneducated, sheltered from, and unexposed to, life around her, but she is not ignorant. Although she is largely unaware of many things others find mundane, and in spite of her lack of worldliness, she has abundant common sense. Her view of life has been tarnished by her experiences, but it has not been tainted.
Lila’s early life was one of poverty, but she was happy sharing it with Doll, whom we shall call her unlikely guardian, for lack of a better description. Doll is devoted to Lila, showering her with affection she was unused to, and Lila, likewise, is devoted to Doll. In spite of what she was lacking in the way of creature comforts, Lila was happy with the routine and simplicity necessitated by their lifestyle and its daily requirements. She comes to realize that with Doll, she managed to survive when she otherwise might not have.
When, after many years, she finds herself alone, she drifts and has many unexpected negative and positive experiences. Regardless of what fate sends her way, Lila somehow always dusts herself off and muddles on finding joy in the simplest of things like a field of violets. She is lonely, but also appreciates her aloneness. She is subject to moods, but most often is kind rather than vengeful. She is ridiculed but she forgives her ridiculers, trying always to understand their motives on some level.
After years of wandering, Lila finds happiness and although this is written after Gilead, it feels as if it could also have been the prequel to it, since it is essentially Lila’s back story, her history. Her life with the Reverend John Ames is explored more fully until it returns to the place where it began, in Gilead, when she met and later married him, a man more than twice her age, at the time.
As Lila develops an interest in religion, she becomes more and more aware of the world around her and more engaged in it, involving herself with people and the church as she had never done before. She still prefers to be a solitary person, but she is more invested with living her life, not just existing within its walls. The book takes us up to the birth of her son, the son that Reverend Ames writes to in a journal in “Gilead”, so he will know him, because the Reverend knows that his advanced age will make it highly unlikely that he will be around to share his life for any great length of time. So in Gilead, the journal of stories was a legacy for the child, and in this book, I had the feeling Lila was “confessing” to him.
There is a sweet and tender innocence with which this story is written, and it will move even the hardest person to think about life, its virtues and its evils. Although it has been described as a Christian book, steeped with passages and messages from the Bible, and it is probably a tale about a person being drawn into religion, it is simply not offensive to someone who is not Christian. The message of kindness and forgiveness transcends differences, and the book should be a welcome read for people of all persuasions. Although spirituality invades her books in the series, her approach is so tender and encompassing that all readers will want to treat each page with reverence, regardless of religious affiliation. Her message transcends differences.
Having read and enjoyed, Robinson’s “Gilead”, several years ago, I had to go back and rediscover the book again to find the connections that became obvious once I did review it. In Lila, the author examines Lila’s life in the same deep way she had examined John’s in “Gilead”. Past and present thoughts often mingle in Lila’s mind, sometimes causing confusion, but this soon resolves itself. Also the book is written in one long stream of thoughts, and sometimes it is disconcerting because there is a constant, unrelenting storm of ideas. It is hard to know when it is appropriate to come up for air, however, since this is a book to be savored, read it slowly, devour and ponder its message, and take a breather when the moment simply feels right.