THE PILGRIM by Hugh Nissenson


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Coming of age as a New England Pilgrim was a tough, bloody and sexy business.

Charles Wentworth always had doubts. Raised in the English town of Winterbourne, "a godly town," as the son of a minister, the young man has all his needs cared for. But unlike his father, or even their illiterate servant Ben, his faith is shaky. Perhaps because of various heartaches and brutality not uncommon as the 17th century began—the death of his mother, the hanging of his nursemaid for infanticide, the smallpox that claims a friend and leaves him scared—Charles cannot believe he will be among the elect, those he believes are predestined to be saved. Even his love of learning seems to be a trick of the Devil's, a lure into vanity. Unwilling to finish his degree at Cambridge, young Charles bounces around, falling often into such sins as getting drunk and even visiting whores, despite his basic leaning toward the spare "true faith"—or Puritan—religion that his father secretly espoused. When the opportunity to emigrate to New England comes, he grabs it. The freedom to worship, however, comes with starvation, sickness and the constant fear of Indian attacks. It also brings the promise of new love and—eventually—the promise of salvation. Told in a straightforward first-person that indulges in just enough period detail to sound convincing, 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.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4022-0924-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2011