The Fall of a Sparrow, Robert Hellenga's first novel since his masterful debut The Sixteen Pleasures, proves not only that Hellenga is a dazzling storyteller, but that he also has a profound understanding of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. The new novel, like The Sixteen Pleasures, links the American Midwest and Italy, but where The Sixteen Pleasures explored the sexual and emotional awakening of a young woman, The Fall of a Sparrow examines the reawakening of life after a young woman has tragically died.
At the heart of the novel is Alan Woodhull ("Woody"), a classics professor at a small midwestern college, whose beloved oldest daughter, Cookie, is killed during a terrorist bombing in Italy. Seven years after the bombing, Woody finds himself standing in the cemetery where Cookie is buried, convinced that life has taught him all the lessons he has to learn. His wife has left him, and his two remaining daughters have grown up and moved away. Yet a new life, which Woody both longs for and resists, begins with his decision to attend the trial of the terrorists responsible for his daughter's death. And as Woody gradually emerges from his sorrow, returning to Italy and the scene of the tragedy, he also awakens to new love.
As Publishers Weekly raved in a starred review, "a wealth of factors...make [Hellenga's] second novel irresistible: resourceful storytelling skills, a lightly ironic sense of humor, a powerful moral vision and plangent insights into the classic theme of suffering and redemption....Hellenga's humane voice, his ability to illuminate the profundities of life in scenes of domestic relationships as well as those set on a larger stage, gives this memorable novel powerful emotional appeal and literary stature."
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Robert Hellenga's superb debut, The Sixteen Pleasures, took the reader to 1960s Florence--a place of floods, fine art, and erotic discovery. His new novel, The Fall of a Sparrow, also opens in Italy, now transformed by the onslaught of terrorism. By 1980, this state of emergency even reaches the U.S., destroying one Midwestern family. Seven years later, Alan "Woody" Woodhull, popular classics teacher at a small Midwestern college, has yet to recover from the loss of his daughter Cookie in a Bologna train station bombing. Under financial pressure from his estranged wife (who's about to enter a convent) and in increasing professional peril (thanks to a high level of self-destructive behavior), he decamps for Italy, intent on bearing witness at the trial of his daughter's killers. The proceedings don't come off as Woody had planned. He does, however, encounter a series of richly drawn Italians--including the father of one terrorist--who are quick to share the benefits of their classical, sensual culture. (Caveat lector, this is a big, big book, and any attempt at synopsis conceals rather than discloses its ample treasures.)
The Fall of a Sparrow is a study in narrative, cultural, and psychological chaos. Woody does his level best to make meaning out of senselessness--in particular, the death of his daughter, but also the subsequent breakup of his family: "Cookie's death was like a cable, binding us to the past," he thinks. "Sometimes we'd think we'd slipped the cable and were running free, but then we'd be brought up short, like a dog that forgets it's on a chain." Again and again, he strives to break free, through literature, music (the blues), sex, and the strength of love. But what he has to learn, and what the book ultimately imparts, is that the past is not to be forgotten or surmounted but absorbed. In addition to his subtle psychological portraits of Woody and his remaining daughters, Hellenga also excels when it comes to the large scale. With his widescreen vision, he creates memorable, almost inhabitable slices of Italian--and American--life.From the Back Cover:
Robert Hellenga, bestselling author of The Sixteen Pleasures, once again reveals his profound understanding of the strength and resilience of the human spirit in a compelling and masterful novel.
Alan Woodhull ("Woody"), a classics professor at a small Midwestern college, finds himself convinced that life has taught him all the lessons he has to learn: After the tragic death of his beloved oldest daughter during a terrorist bombing in Italy seven years ago, his wife has left him and his two remaining daughters have grown up and moved away. Yet his decision to attend the trial of the terrorists and to return to the scene of the tragedy marks the beginning of a new life and the awakening of a new love.
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Book Description Penguin, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0140277048