What are some key words that explain Reuben Land in Leif Enger's Peace Like a River?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Leif Enger's novel Peace Like a River is narrated by Reuben Land, the second son of Jeremiah Land. Describing anyone with just a few words is likely to portray an incomplete picture; however, there are two words which would effectively describe Reuben: asthmatic and believer.

It is impossible to overlook Reuben's asthma. He suffers breathing problems from the moment of his birth, and asthmahas shaped who he is. He has asthmatic episodes throughout his life, and they cause him to have bizarre dreams and even nightmares. These episodes keep him close to his father, who is the one to sit with him and pound on his back to help him breathe. He, more than anyone except for his father, is aware of the fragility of life because of his asthma.

The second word, believer, is intricately connected to the first, asthmatic. Reuben is not breathing when he is born, and it is a miracle (performed by God through his father) both that he is alive and that he has no adverse effects from the lack of oxygen for the first ten minutes of his life. Because he is alive because of a miracle, Reuben believes in miracles. Ironically, the miracle of healing is not his--until the end of the story. He is sensitive and is affected most by his brother's leaving. He believes Davey will come back to them, and he believes everything will be okay. 

Reuben is an asthmatic and a believer, and these two pieces of who he is are evident through the entire novel.

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