At a recent Passover Seder in Melbourne, I caught the word ‘Gilead’. ‘My favourite book!’ exclaimed the woman opposite me. I was a Catholic guest at a gracious Jewish table, so I whispered my query: ‘Marilynne Robinson’s novel?’ ‘Of course!’ came the emphatic reply. The Seder ritual was suspended for a moment (informality was part of the evening’s graciousness) while people asked about Robinson, about American literature, and what a Calvinist might be.
If I’d had multiples of Robinson’s new book of essays, What Are We Doing Here?, I would have handed them around gratefully, not just for her eloquent explanation of what it means to be a Calvinist in today’s America, but for her profound articulation of what it means to be a writer and an exemplary human being in an age and a country (a world?) where language and truth are daily traduced.