Culture - Book 10: The Long Way Home


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Gamache kept his large hand splayed over the cover of the book, forcing it shut as though trapping the story inside.

Then he lifted his hand and showed it to [Clara], but when she reached out for it, Gamache drew it back. Not far, barely noticeable. But far enough.

“The Balm in Gilead,” she read the title, and searched her memory. “There’s a book called Gilead. I read it a few years ago. By Marilynne Robinson. Won the Pulitzer.”

“Not the same,” Gamache assured her.

The Long Way Home (37-38, Trade Paper Edition)

There is a Balm in GileadThough not the same as the 2004 book, Louise does acknowledge Robinson’s novel as “remarkable” and, in fact, two pages later in The Long Way Home Clara quotes directly from Robinson’s work, “I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray you find a way to be useful.”

And while Robinson’s novel itself is set in a fictional town in Iowa, the title was influenced by the Biblical town of Gilead which means “hill of testimony” and was situated east of the Jordan River.

Gilead is first mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 8:22) and the actual “balm” refers to a healing salve that was indigenous to the area. In the New Testament the “balm” becomes a symbol for Christ himself, who God sends to heal the suffering of his people. Those of you who have read The Long Way Home know that the notion of healing is paramount to the story. The hymnal that Gamache covets is almost certainly from Washington Glass’s book, The Sinner’s Cure, first published in 1854.

Glass claimed “There is a Balm in Gilead” as his own but that is unlikely. The composition was probably drawn from a traditional African American spiritual, that was passed down orally for generations, before Glass transcribed it. The hymn has since gone on to be recorded by the likes of Paul Robeson, Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson.

“The Balm in Gilead” is also mentioned in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

The Raven, not unlike The Long Way Home, is a tale of devotion, memory, and again healing — the balm. And lost loved ones — for Poe’s unnamed narrator, it’s Lenore. For Louise’s Clara, it’s Peter.

Culture - Book 9: How The Light Gets In


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“ . . . finally, I’d like to thank Leonard Cohen. The book is named after an excerpt from his poem/song — ‘Anthem.’” (Louise Penny, Acknowledgements, How the Light Gets In)

The Future album by Leonard CohenLouise goes on to tell us that she first used the words in her second book.

“Gamache leaned in and put on his reading glasses.

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget the perfect offering,
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

He read it out loud. Beautiful.” (A Fatal Grace, Page 174)

Cohen, a Canadian and Quebecker like Louise, passed away last November and was hailed by Nick Cave as “the greatest songwriter of them all.” Anthem appeared on his 1992 album, The Future, but the song was a long time coming. It took Cohen 10 years to write and he reflected late in life on how much the song meant to him, “There’s not a line in it that I couldn’t defend.”

How the Light Gets In, the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, is a harrowing tale of deep-seated corruption both political and moral. And, at its heart, the sanctity of Three Pines itself.

On page 117 of the novel, Gamache ponders, “Three Pines, he knew, was not immune to dreadful loss. To sorrow and pain. What Three Pines had wasn’t immunity but a rare ability to heal. And that’s what they offered him.”

Leonard CohenThat statement, to me, epitomizes Louise’s choice for the title and its connection to Leonard Cohen’s profound words. As Cohen said himself in a rare interview in the early 90’s, “And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.”

Three Pines certainly has some cracks but as Gamache points out it also has “a rare ability to heal” the brokenness of things.

When Louise originally reached out to Cohen to obtain the rights — and ask what it would cost — to license the stanza for inclusion in A Fatal Grace, she was astounded by his response:

He would give it to me for free. Free. I’d paid handsomely for other poetry excerpts, and rightly so. I’d expected to pay for this, especially given that at the time, six years ago, Mr. Cohen had just had most of his savings stolen by a trusted member of his team. Instead of asking for thousands — he asked for nothing. I cannot begin to imagine the light that floods into that man.

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

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