The novel was included on Time's 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 and Modern Library's list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
The novel is timeless. The story unfolds in France and Italy, is about two boyhood friends who study for the priesthood together and subsequently end up doing their life's work together in the wild, open country of the New Mexico and Arizona frontiers.
This work spans their entire lives, and the adventures, trials and hardships are many. The artistry that Willa Cather employs as she takes her reader through the magnificent, lonely expanses of sage and cactus, to the Mexican people in remote areas; the lawless exiles who hope to disappear into it's wilderness, is all accomplished as though a painter is at work beside her, shaping her words into visuals, makes this work one of her best, in my view.
The novel is based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, and partially chronicles the construction of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.