Things have been pretty quiet around here of late…I am hard at work on the final stages of the book I’m helping Doug Sherman write. I’ll have a Christmas update soon and it won’t be long until it’s time for 2010 in review. Hopefully, it is a year like no other.
For now, I thought the first few days of December seemed the most reasonable time to post reviews of the last three books of my summer reading. I hope you’ll enjoy.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
“…it has started to feel like I am being rude and ungrateful, do you understand? To keep on doubting. That God loves me. Personally…Does that sound arrogant? Or just crazy? To think that God loves me” (p. 179).
“The Jewish sages tell us that the whole of the Torah, the entirety of the first five books of the Bible, is the name of God. With such a name, they ask, how much more is God?” (p. 200-201).
“…there was the sense that they had lived their lives the right way and confidence that God has recognized their artistry as the prayer they had always meant the work to be, and there was hope that He would let them serve Him now” (p. 188).
The Sparrow was my favorite read of the summer and the only book on my summer list that survived the fire. (I finished re-reading it last week!) On July 4th, I loaned it to a friend (Jason Ford) who reported highly enjoying it. And even before I finished it, I had recommended it to a friend Kyle and I got to visit in New York (Trey Hicks). As I recall, he pronounced it devastating and beautiful. Thanks for the recommendation, Erika!
The Sparrow is about a very unlikely group—Jesuit priests, an anthropologist/medical doctor, and various scientists—who make contact with an alien race after picking up the beautiful music broadcast from their planet. The story is about how a series of informed decisions made by intelligent and well-intentioned people resulted in devastation. And it is a story that begs God to be good even when things go horribly wrong.
The author explores two very different historical periods metaphorically. The first is the perspective of the first European explorers to the New World. Not all were greedy and bloodthirsty. Many came wanting to be like Abraham to the natives—both blessed and a blessing to those they met. She also considers the Holocaust. Through the life of Emilio Sandoz, she explores how a good and sovereign God can allow evil.
The Sparrow asks a lot of hard questions. What if good intentions in the face of radically unfamiliar society led to devastation in ways that couldn’t have been prevented? What if a life is poured out for the love of God seems to be punished instead of rewarded? Why did God regard Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s? Why did He love Jacob and hate Esau? Why did He allow Hitler to put His people in concentration camps? Why does He tolerate pain and evil on a scale that is beyond our ability to process?
This book came at a perfect time in my life. These questions resonate with prayers whispered and sometimes nearly yelled at God in the past few years. Is it possible God wants to hurt people who love Him? Does He reward love and sacrifice with pain and suffering? I don’t pretend to understand His ways but I am surer than ever that He is good and real and powerful and that He loves the people He created. I have known His comfort in deeper ways that ever before. The truth of Romans 8:28-God working all things together for good for those who love Him-is a mystery that will take a lifetime to unravel. And I do love a good mystery.
[Note: there are some portions of this story that are extremely graphic and disturbing. Read with caution.]
Rating: 5 stars
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
The sequel to The Sparrow explores the enduring effects of human choices, the importance of perspective, and the differences not only in motive but also in outcome of decisions made in light of faith in God versus those made for selfish gain. Russell returns to her theme of good intentions and right motives putting people on opposite sides of a battlefield. The story was well told and full of surprising twists but lacked the spiritual depth and pathos of the first.
Rating: 3 1/3 stars
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman
I was only a few chapters into this one but it looked really interesting. It was an exploration of the historical evidence for a female sea captain leading a series of colonizing explorations of the New World. It seems such a woman really lived…I may have to replace this one to find out what she did and what happened to her.