Eternity Gained

In his new novel Wendell Berry returns to the time and the characters found in his earlier and more complex work, A Place on Earth. The atmosphere is familiar: a community subtly unsettled by the distant events of World War II; families still rooted in place through bonds to the land and to each other; homes still functioning as small economies, complete with cellars, smokehouses, henhouses, and gardens; and a continuity of vision that reaches back before the Civil War. As young Andy Catlett, Mr. Berry's semi-autobiographical protagonist, describes it: "I saw how beautiful the field was, how beautiful our work was. And it came to me all in a feeling how everything fitted together, the place and ourselves and the animals and the tools, and how the sky held us."

The ostensible focus of this short work is on the strange circumstances surrounding the murder of the boy's Uncle Andrew. At first, the book appears to be but an extended character study of this figure. Yet Mr. Berry carefully develops two other themes, both encompassed by the novel's title.

The first concerns the passing of an age, as a distinctive rural culture is quietly buried by social and economic forces accelerated during World War II. Into the 1940's, Mr. Berry notes, the "life of our fields still depended on the bodily strength and skill of people and horses and mules," and farming people carried on their lives...

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