Gandert, Sean. (2019). American Saint: A Novel. Seattle, WA: 47North.
Written as a hagiography, American Saint tells the story of Gabriel Romero. As you read through the story, you hear the story of Gabriel as told by those who knew him in the many facets of his life: family, friends, lovers, confidants, fellow students, co-workers, brief acquaintances, parishioners, followers, non-followers, and more. These interviews and stories from the characters we meet throughout the story, give us the vision of a man many believed to be a saint or hero and others an anarchist or charlatan.
Gabriel was raised in Albuquerque by his mother and grandmother, learning healing and traditions from his curandera grandmother, as well as her strong Catholic beliefs. Gabriel is complex and conflicted. He begins questioning the many beliefs and teachings of the Catholic church. To that end, he forms his own church in Albuquerque where he preaches love and social justice. Yet Gabriel continues to struggle with his own beliefs and values. He wrangles with the contradictions and divisions in the world around him, constantly looking for the answers that God will provide him.
We don’t get to hear from Gabriel himself but rather through the stories/interviews of those who knew Gabriel. Gandert weaves together Gabriel’s complex life story through these interviews. I think this approach given to the story of Gabriel and the lives he touched was a poignant way for us to read through his life and the mystery that seemed to surround him. As one reviewer (Eric Knowlton on GoodReads) wrote: “He [Gandert] weaves together fact and fiction in a way that causes one to forget that the book isn't nonfiction. I'm not quite sure there is a completely nonfictional or fictional story. The two invariably bleed into each other (a theme present throughout the book).” I wholeheartedly agree. There were times I felt that the book was nonfiction, Gandert telling me about this man who lives in the same city that I do, going through these various experiences. I wanted to read more about particular events but then realized they were fictional.
I truly enjoyed this book. It gave me a lot to think about, and while some reviewers said they couldn’t put it down, I had to. I had to put it down at times to think through the events or concepts brought up. I am glad for a book that makes me think about things in different ways.
Review by: Cassandra E. Osterloh, NHCC Librarian
Available at the NHCC Library PS3607 .A442 A8 2019