Mary Doria Russell’s debut novel, The Sparrow, took us on a journey to a distant planet and into the center of the human soul. A critically acclaimed bestseller, The Sparrow was chosen as one of Entertainment Weekly’s Ten Best Books of the Year, a finalist for the Book-of-the-Month Club’s First Fiction Prize and the winner of the James M. Tiptree Memorial Award. Now, in Children of God, Russell further establishes herself as one of the most innovative, entertaining and philosophically provocative novelists writing today.
The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.
Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral…
“God made the world and He saw that it was good,” Sofia’s father had always told her when she complained of some injustice during her brief childhood. “Not fair. Not happy. Not perfect, Sofia. Good.”
I wish more people subscribed to this point of view.
You all probably know by now that I love religious themes in novels, so it is natural for me to open this review with a religious quote, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking Children is a novel solely about religion; it is not. It is primarily a science fiction novel that nicely blends religion, ethics, morality, politics, love and revolution.
While there is a lot going on Earth side, Russell takes us back to Rakhat to witness a lot more than we did in Sparrow. After finishing Sparrow, I was dying to know what the Rakhati repercussions were of the previous missions’ unintended consequences and Children certainly delivers. Readers will be introduced to a lot of new characters and will discover that all is not what it seemed in Sparrow. Don’t you love when that happens?
As with its predecessor, Children offers numerous discussion possibilities, which makes it great for book groups. It is ‘literature’ in that it is not just a science fiction novel, but rather a novel with a message or deeper meaning, and while it is a little lighter than Sparrow, it still offers an abundance of beautiful and profound quotes, my favorite:
Later she would think, If I had turned away, I’d have missed the moment he fell in love.
And of course most of my favorite quotes are the religious ones, especially those about Catholicism. Over the years, I have had many debates and discussions about God and religion, including what Catholicism is and isn’t. Explaining Catholicism has always been difficult. Leave it to Russell to sum it up quite succinctly. The fact that it comes from a Texan and former Marine, just makes it that much better!
“Most people, now, they don’t like to go straight to the top, not really. They need to sidle up to a proposition, come at the thing a little off-center. They feel better with a chain of command,” D.W. said, an old Marine squadron commander whose years in the Jesuit order had done nothing to diminish his tendency to think in military terms. “Got a problem, you ask the sergeant. Sergeant might go to a captain he knows. Most folks would have a hell of a time getting up the nerve to bang on the general’s office door, even if he was the nicest fella in the world. Catholicism makes allowances for that in human beings.”
Seriously, I could write this whole review with quotes. As I scroll through all the quotes I marked, it pains me to leave any out. However, half the fun of this book is going through it yourself and selecting your own favorites. Please feel free to post your favorites in the comments section. At some point I will sit down and write out discussion questions, which will include most of these quotes since they bring up marvelous discussion points.
One little digression before I close- My mother read to me aloud from a very young age and even now that I am an adult, sometimes we will read things aloud to each other. As a result, my sister and I are avid readers. One of the side effects of this is a large vocabulary. In fact I have a humorous story about mixing up ‘vernacular’ with ‘vicinity’ in which I come out as the butt of the joke, even though I was totally right, but I would be digressing from my digression. I am not embarrassed when I don’t understand a word someone uses and I love it when I read a book and have to look up a word. Yes, I’m a nerd.
Most of the time, you can figure out what a word means from context but every once in a while, that doesn’t work. Such was the case with a few words in Children of God. It was great fun yelling out to my husband, “What does xyz mean?” Or having to get up to go find a dictionary because I was reading an actual physical book and it turns out that pressing the word to bring up the definition doesn’t work as well as it does on my Nook. Bottom line, for those who know me in person, I apologize ahead of time but I will be annoying you for a bit by inserting the words senescence, hyponym and collocation into conversation at every opportunity. I may use them incorrectly at first but I am nothing if not fastidious.
In conclusion, as with The Sparrow, I thought the story and characters were well developed; I cared about what happened to them. I liked the fact that it seemed realistic- no cavalry comes to the rescue, there aren’t any blatant miracles, convenient coincidences, etc. Russell doesn’t succumb to any easy ways out, all of which make for many bittersweet moments. I suppose you could read this by itself, but if you stumbled upon this review before reading The Sparrow, I highly recommend reading that first, otherwise you are really missing out! Happy reading.
Reviewed by Christina
May 24, 2015