Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children-of-god Children of God is the sequel to The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell’s fabulous Jesuit time-travel tale. While I enjoyed this book and recommend it if you’ve read The Sparrow I found the plot, pacing, and new characters disappointing.

Emilio leaves the priesthood and falls in love with Gina Giuliani, ex-wife of Camorra mobster Carlo Giuliani. They’re set to marry, and suddenly, Carlo beats and abducts Emilio to fulfill the Vatican’s wish for Emilio to return to Rakhat. It’s this beating and abduction that disappoints. The philosophical discussion about whether the ends justify any means in the name of God falls flat. There had to be a better way to get Emilio to choose to return to Rakhat on his own terms.

The plot’s pace flags at times; Emilio arrives on Rakhat only after 90% of the book is complete. It seems odd that as a reader you have to wait that long for that main event in the book to take place. Rakhat’s political and social landscape have altered dramatically in the years since his departure; the Runa have overthrown the Jana’ata in an uprising initiated with Sofia’s prophetic chant in the Kashan massacre: We are many. They are few.

Sofia is revered on Rakhat as a revolutionary, toted about in a sedan chair as if she were royalty. Life on Rahkat has been hard on her and she’s bitter about losing her son Isaac, an autistic savant who essentially just wanders away from her one day, and never returns. There is a sad irony in Isaac. As an autistic, he can’t relate or connect socially. He’s born to a mother who used intelligence as prophylactic against human connection, who sold her incisive mind to escape prostitution.

Sofia and Emilio’s eventual reunion is awkward and tense, poisoned by Sofia’s bitterness and Emilio’s still-precarious emotional state.

While the prose is almost as beautiful as The Sparrow, the new characters — especially Gina, her daughter Celestina, and the second Jesuit mission crew (Carlo, Danny Iron Horse, Sean Fein, Frans, and Nico) — feel like one dimensional caricatures. It’s particularly disappointing because the characters in The Sparrow were deep and interesting and original. It’s too bad that so few of them lived to appear in the sequel.

If you enjoyed The Sparrow, you should read this book, though prepare yourself for a different sort of a ride.

May — 2015

Isaac makes a song of DNA

…he had set himself the task of memorizing every base pair in human DNA, having assigned a musical note to represent each of the four bases–adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. He would listen to the monotonous four-note sequences for hours.

“Sipaj, Isaac,” she’d asked when this jag started, “what are you doing?”

“Remembering,” he said…

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

TheSparrow I stumbled on The Sparrow from a tweet by Erik Westra. Erik is gold when it comes to books. I read and loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena on his recommendation.

Like ACoVP, The Sparrow is a beautiful and poignant novel which tells the story of a family made, not chosen. A disparate set of earthlings travel light years to the Alpha Centauri system in a bid to find intelligent life — the singers they interpret via radio signals on earth.

When the travelers, (Emilio Sandoz — Jesuit priest/linguist, Dr. Anne Edwards and her engineer husband George Edwards, Sofia Mendes, an artificial intelligence expert, astronomer Jimmy Quinn, music expert Alan Pace, botanist Marc Robichaux, and their leader, D.W. Yarbourgh, the Father Superior) arrive on Rakhat — a beautiful planet with three suns — they encounter the Runa, a species of nonviolent gatherers based in Kashan. Supaari VaGaygur, a third-born Jana’ata merchant, supervises trade in the Kashan region.

This book is so beautiful in so many ways: the anthropological exploration of Runa and Jana’ata as species, their respective societies, and cultural norms is fascinating. You almost feel as though you’re a silent participant on the scientific mission. The characters are exceptionally well drawn; they’re complex and conflicted and beautifully flawed. It’s the relationships between the humans — how they eventually drop their masks to embrace their plight on Rakhat and surrender to one another — and to love — that’s most satisfying.

While this book is about exploration and the search for alien sentience, faith is the dominating theme.

The Sparrow explores faith and the opposite of faith — despair — the state of being in which the faithful feels that God has abandoned them. Emilio Sandoz suffers a crisis of faith, questioning why a just and loving God would allow the cruelty, depravity, and brutality he suffers on Rakhat. It’s only through a harrowing confession that as a reader you must bear witness to, that you begin to understand Emilio’s despair and God’s part in it.

This book is a about predators and prey, the helpful and the helpless, about how in extreme cases we must be completely stripped bare — become naked before God — in order to regain our humanity.

“So God just leaves?” John asked, angry where Emilio had been desolate. “Abandons creation? You’re on your own, apes. Good luck!”

“No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us and remembering.”

“Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,” Vincenzo Giuliani said quietly. “‘Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it.'”

“But the sparrow still falls,” Felipe said.

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

I read this book twice, back-to-back. It’s worth your time.

March — April, 2015


The city gave its name to the power of patience— Romanità . Romanità excludes emotion, hurry, doubt. Romanità waits, sees the moment and moves ruthlessly when the time is right. Romanità rests on an absolute conviction of ultimate success and arises from a single principle, Cunctando regitur mundus: Waiting, one conquers all.

The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell

It divides

Later that summer, as rain fell, such a moment shimmered and paused on the brink, and then began the ancient dance of numbers: two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty- two, and a new life took root and began to grow. And thus the generations past were joined to the unknowable future.

Probably the most beautiful description of conception I have ever read.

The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell