Hannibal Free Public Library

 Peace Like a River

Leif Enger

June 27, 2011


Set in the Minnesota countryside and North Dakota Badlands of the early 1960s, Peace Like a River is the story about one family's quest to retrieve its most wayward member. Reuben Land, the novel's asthmatic and self-effacing eleven-year-old narrator, recounts an unforgettable journey riddled with outlaw tales, heartfelt insights, and bona fide miracles. Born without air in his lungs, Reuben is keenly aware of the gift of breath—and, by extension, the gift of life. Time and again, both gifts are bestowed on Reuben by his father, a gentlemanly soul who works as a school janitor and has the power—and faith—to bestow true miracles. But when Davy (Reuben's brother) kills two intruders who break into the Land home with evil intent, and then escapes from prison while his trial is in progress, events seem to have worsened beyond the aid of miracles. Or have they?

Leif Enger was raised in Osakis , Minnesota and has worked as a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio since 1984. He lives on a farm in Minnesota with his wife and two sons.


1.              What role do miracles play in Peace Like a River?


2.              Throughout the book, Reuben is preoccupied with his own breathing, and the act of breathing functions in this story as a metaphor for life itself. How does Reuben cope with his ailment, and how is his character influenced by it?


3.              Consider the details of the double homicide committed by Davy, Reuben's older brother. Did you want Davy brought to justice, or do you think justice has already been served?


4.              The novel is set mainly in rural Minnesota and the Badlands of North Dakota during the early 1960s. Identify events or circumstances in which the novel's setting contributes to its elemental or mythic quality.


5.              Swede, Reuben's imaginative, prolific, and precocious younger sister, creates an epic poem about a cowboy named Sunny Sundown. Talk about Sunny's ongoing saga as an ironic commentary on Reuben's larger narrative. What are the parallels?


6.              Besides the Sunny Sundown text, several other outlaw tales, literary allusions, biblical legends, and historical asides are offered—by Swede or by Reuben himself. Identify a few of these stories-within-the-story, explaining how each enriches or influences the main narrative.


7.              Discuss the character of Jeremiah Land, Reuben's father—and the center of his moral compass. What are Jeremiah's strengths, as a person and a parent? Does he have any weaknesses? Explain how the novel's dual themes of familial love and ardent faith are met in this character.


8.              Prayer is described in many ways, and on many occasions, in Peace Like a River. Reading this book, what did you discover anything about the activity of, reasons for, or consequences of prayer?


9.              Recovering from a near-fatal asthmatic collapse, Reuben muses: "The infirm wait always, and know it." (p. 290) What is Reuben "waiting" for? How is his waiting resolved? Can this analogy be applied to any of the other characters?


Adapted from: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides3/peace_like_a_river1.asp and http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/20948/Leif_Enger/index.aspx