Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Leif Enger

Enger was born in Minnesota in 1961. His father was a band director and his mother was a teacher at Osakis High School in Minnesota. Enger attended Moorhead State University and received a degree in English. At Moorhead, he met his wife, Robin Reed. Following graduation, Enger spent sixteen years working for the Minnesota Public Radio, and he co-wrote five mystery novels with his brother, Lin Enger, under the name L. L. Enger. Peace Like a River was Enger's debut solo novel and received several awards, including the ALA Alex Award for the best adult novel for teens. Enger and his wife live on 56 acres near Aiken, Minnesota with their two sons.
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Historical Context of Peace Like a River

Reuben makes several references to events that shaped the early 1960s, such as the Cold War with Russia. Tin Lurvy's beloved Democratic Party had elected John F. Kennedy in 1960, and the party gained seats in the Senate in the midterm elections of 1962. The United States experienced an economic downturn during the early 1960s, which likely contributed to the Lands’ poor financial situation.

Other Books Related to Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River makes references to a number of novels ranging from James Fenimore Cooper's series The Leatherstocking Tales to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Leif Enger's second novel So Brave, Young, and Handsome also explores similar themes of the American West and the quest for justice as Peace Like a River does. Similarly, Peace Like a River questions many of the tropes and themes presented in literary and film Westerns. Swede specifically reads novels by Zane Gray (Riders of the Purple Sage) and Frank O'Rourke (Swede reads The Big Fifty). Finally, Swede herself is often compared to Scout Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Both novels share sibling children grappling with adult concepts, and Swede and Scout are similarly precocious.
Key Facts about Peace Like a River
  • Full Title: Peace Like a River
  • When Written: Late 1990s-2000
  • Where Written: Minnesota
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary fiction
  • Genre: Western, bildungsroman, contemporary Christian literature
  • Setting: 1962-63 in Roofing, Minnesota and the Badlands of North Dakota
  • Climax: Jape Waltzer shoots Reuben and Jeremiah
  • Antagonist: Reuben encounters several antagonists throughout the novel, beginning with Tommy Basca and Israel Finch. He initially sees Martin Andreeson as an adversary, though this opinion changes, and he grows to realize that Jape Waltzer is actually an antagonist, not a savior.
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by Reuben

Extra Credit for Peace Like a River

It Is Well with My Soul. The title of Peace Like a River comes from a line in the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," which was performed at Leif Enger's wedding.

Asthma and Westerns. Frank O'Rourke, one of the authors of Swede's beloved Western novels, suffered from asthma like Reuben does.