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Recommendation: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

By Mark D. Roberts | Friday, September 4, 2009

Okay, okay, this book has been around since 2001. I’m sure many of my readers have read Peace Like a River and loved it. But if you haven’t read it, I want to bring it to your attention. This is a book you will love.

I started reading this book on vacation. More accurately, I started listening to this book being read while we were on vacation, driving through the Montana wilderness. It isn’t the sort of book that reaches out and grabs you. It isn’t a thriller, nor is it meant to be. Peace Like a River saunters rather than sprints. It draws you in slowly but powerfully through images that fuel the imagination, characters that move the heart, and stories that make you both laugh and cry.

The world of Peace Like a River is one in which miracles occur, though the protagonist/narrator leaves it up to you to decide what’s real. This book portrays predominantly Christian people for whom faith is a genuine, essential part of their lives. At first, this made me nervous, I must confess. So often, especially in contemporary fiction, Christians end up looking like ghouls and Christianity like something either bizarre or dangerous or both. Yet, as I made my way through Peace Like a River, I soon came to trust that the author would respect Christians and their faith. That’s not to say this book is preachy, not at all. Nor is it “Christian fiction” in the narrow sense of the word. The Christianity in Peace Like a River is mostly genuine, humble, and faithful, though not without its rough edges. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author, Leif Enger, is a believing Christian. But whether he is or not, he treats faith, even as he treats people and the world in which they live, with respect.

Peace Like a River is narrated by Reuben Land, an eleven-year-old boy with asthma. The novel largely focuses on crucial events during this season of his life, though these are framed in the context of his unusual birth and later life. To be honest, I found the beginning of Peace Like a River rather strange, since miracles feature prominently. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that miracles happen. But I get nervous when a novel majors in them. Nevertheless, since I didn’t have anything else to listen to while I drove across Montana, I kept on listening to Peace Life a River, and I’m glad that I did.

The author, Leif Enger, used to work for Minnesota Public Radio. When his first “serious” book, Peace Like a River, became a huge success, Enger focused on writing.  His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, has been out for just over a year. I look forward to reading it.

By the way, you can purchase Peace Like a River in the ordinary paperback form from You can also purchase a Kindle edition. The recorded version can be downloaded from iTunes. The narrator, actor Chad Lowe, brother of Rob Lowe, does a fine job bringing the book to life.

In a 2004 interview for Whitworth University Communication, Leif Enger said something about writing that I find wise and provocative. I’ll end with his comment:

[I]t seems to me that a writer’s job — and not just a Christian writer’s job, but I think Christians often have a harder time doing this than secular writers — is to become invisible in his or her work, to step back and let the story just be a story, to not preach, to bury your agenda, if you have one, to dare to be entertaining and to trust that the story then will become what it is supposed to be.

Thanks to my son, Nathan, for reminding me of this quotation.

Topics: Book Reviews, Recommendations |

4 Responses to “Recommendation: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger”

  1. Bill Goff Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I looked up the reviews on There are some very positive and very negative reviews. I don’t think I’ll add this book to my wish list.

  2. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Bill: If you spend much time looking at Amazon comments, you’ll notice that the finest books in the world get negative reviews. You’ve got to pay attention to the percentages. Peace Like a River has about ten times as many five star reviews as one star reviews. That’s almost the same as Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, etc. etc. This doesn’t mean you should buy Peace Like a River. But it means you should not take too seriously the existence of a small percentage of negative reviews. Remember, anybody can put up a review of an Amazon book.

  3. Bill Goff Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Mark: You’re right as usual. However it was not the percentages that disinclined me to buy the book, but the very specific remarks of the few negative critics.
    Following your suggestion I looked up the negative reviews of Huckleberry Finn on There are many. My favorite called the classic book “Unbelievably Dull”. So now I will take a look at Peace Like A River at my local bookstore to judge myself if it is worth purchasing.
    By the way, one of the several books I am currently reading is the improbable tale of a boy being shipwrecked and surviving on a lifeboat with a big Tiger! The book is called Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It is told in gripping, realistic, detail - a great read (I have the illustrated edition).

  4. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Bill: Thanks. Say, I have heard great things about The Life of Pi, but have not read it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    As you know, people differ in their appreciation of art, music, and literature. I remember once mentioned the musical Les Miserables, one of my all time favorites, to a friend who said, “Oh, I hated it!” So I can understand that Peace Like a River is not for everyone. It has a slow pace, as I mentioned. Reminds me of the movie Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall. Moreover, though the book is not preachy, it is built on a Christian worldview, which would bother some folks.

    I also read some of the Amazon comments, and they astound me. Those who think this book is poorly written have a strange sense of the English language. But, as you say, some folks hated Huckleberry Finn, and even had the brazenness to admit it publicly. Yikes!


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