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Children of God

Children of God

4.6 52
by Mary Doria Russell, Stephen Lang (Read by)

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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,


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 So-ciety 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 universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Chil-dren of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell's special literary magic.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Brilliant...Powerful...An outstanding natural storyteller.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Russell follows her speculative first novel, The Sparrow, with a sequel that will please even readers new to her interplanetary missionaries. Having returned from a disastrous, 21st-century expedition to the planet Rakhat, Jesuit Father Emilio Sandoz, the sole survivor of the mission, faces public rage over the order's part in the war between the gentle Runa and the predatory Jana'ata -- fury more than matched by the priest's own self-hatred and religious disillusionment. In the sequel, he is forced to return to Rakhat with a new expedition more interested in profits than prophets. When they discover the planet in turmoil and the Runa precariously in power, the temptation to interfere is more than they can withstand.

As in her first book, Russell uses the entertaining plot to explore sociological, spiritual, religious, scientific and historical questions. Misunderstandings between cultures and people are at the heart of her story. It is, however, the complex figure of Father Sandoz around which a diverse interplanetary cast orbits, and it is the intelligent, emotional and very personal feud between Father Sandoz and his God that provides energy for both books.

Library Journal
Emilio Sandoz is a priest and brilliant linguist who was crippled and sexually assaulted during a mission to Rakhat, a planet inhabited by two intelligent life forms, the Runa and the Jana'ata. Vowing never to return, Emilio quits the priesthood and finds peace, even love. He is kidnapped, however, and sent on a return mission, where he finds that the servant Runi are rebelling against the Jana'ata and the planet is consumed by unrest and savagery. Intertwined are other stories, including that of Sophia, a previously unknown survivor from the first mission, and Supaari, a Jana'ata who risks everything to protect his daughter who, in accordance with Jana'ata policy, should have been killed. Compelling and chilling, set in the not-too-distant 2060, Russell's novel immediately pulls the listener in and delivers. -- Susan McCaffrey, Sturgis Middle School,. Michigan
Kirkus Reviews
Sequel to The Sparrow, Russell's account of a 21st- century Jesuit-led expedition to planet Rakhat with its two intelligent, kangaroo-like alien races, the carnivorous Jana'ata and their prey, the enslaved Runa. Broken, beset by terrible nightmares, Emilio Sandoz—the expedition's sole survivor—has returned to Earth, where he rejects the Jesuits and the priesthood and falls in love with Gina Giuliani and her four-year-old daughter Celestina. Still, for a variety of reasons the Jesuits (as well as the Pope) pressure Sandoz toward agreeing to return to Rakhat. But even when Sandoz discovers that another expedition member, Sofia Mendes, also survived, he refuses to go. On Rakhat, meanwhile, changes continue. The merchant Supaari, who broke Sandoz and sold him, rejects the Jana'ata lifestyle and takes his supposedly deformed daughter into the forest. Jana'ata poet Hlavin Kitheri, who bought Sandoz in order to rape him, slaughters all his relatives, blames Supaari, and tries to build a society based on ability, not inherited rank. Sofia Mendes, hiding in the forest with the Runa she incited to rebel, gives birth to Isaac, an autistic child with an uncanny musical talent, and supplies the Runa with advanced technology so that they can continue the revolt against their Jana'ata overlords. On Earth, Sandoz is shanghaied aboard the Jesuits' new ship (thanks to relativistic effects, he will never see Gina again), which arrives at Rakhat just in time to prevent the extermination of the Jana'ata by the Sofia-led Runa. Finally, Sandoz will return to Earth, free at last of his nightmares, to meet the daughter he never knew he had. A brutal and deliberate tale, its characters rathertoo forgiving to be wholly human, that will challenge and sometimes shred the reader's preconceptions.

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 4 Cassettes
Product dimensions:
4.15(w) x 7.12(h) x 1.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Nevertheless, Father Sandoz has been the object of virulent public condemnation for his alleged conduct on Rakhat. As you know, our ship was followed into space three years later by the Magellan, a vessel owned and operated by the Contact Consortium, whose interests were primarily commercial. Scandal sells; sensationalizing allegations against our people (and against Father Sandoz in particular) was to the Consortium's economic advantage, since their lurid reports were radioed back from Rakhat for sale to a worldwide audience on Earth. In fairness, the crew of the Ma-gellan was utterly unfamiliar with Rakhat when they arrived, and there is reason to believe that they were misled by Supaari VaGayjur about many facts. The subsequent unexplained disappearance of the Magellan party suggests that they, too, fell prey to the near impossibility of avoiding fatal mistakes on Rakhat.

"Thus, of the eighteen people who traveled to Rakhat in two separate parties, only Emilio Sandoz has survived. Father Sandoz has cooperated with us to the best of his ability during months of intense questioning, often at the cost of great personal distress. I will provide Your Holiness with a complete set of the mission's scientific papers and supporting documents, as well as verbatim transcripts of the hearings; here, for your consideration, is a brief outline of salient points uncovered during the hearings just concluded.

"1. There are not one but two intelligent species on Rakhat.

"The Stella Maris party was initially welcomed as a 'foreign' trade delegation by the village of Kashan. The villagers identified themselves as Runa, which simply means 'People.' The Runa are large,vegetarian bipeds with stabilizing tails--rather like kangaroos; they have high mobile ears and remarkably beautiful double-irised eyes. Placid in disposition, they are intensely sociable and communitarian.

"Their hands are double-thumbed and their craftsmanship is superb, but some members of the Jesuit party suspected that the Runa in general were somewhat limited intellectually. Their material culture seemed too simple to account for the powerful transmissions first detected on Earth by radio telescope in 2019. Furthermore, the Runa were disturbed and frightened by music, which seemed anomalous, given that it was radio broadcasts of chorales that first alerted us to the existence of Rakhat. However, individual Runa seemed quite bright, and the tentative conclusion was that the village of Kashan was something of a backwater on the edge of a sophisticated civilization. Since there was so much to be learned in Kashan, the decision was made to remain there for a time.

"To the great surprise of our people, the Singers of Rakhat were in fact a second sentient species. The Jana'ata bear a striking but superficial physical resemblance to the Runa. They are carnivorous, with prehensile feet and three-fingered hands that are clawed and rather bearlike. For the first two years of the mission, the Jana'ata were represented by a single individual: Supaari VaGayjur, a merchant based in the city of Gayjur who acted as a middleman for a number of isolated Runa villages in southern Inbrokar, a state that occupies the central third of the largest continent of Rakhat.

"The Jesuit party had every reason to believe Supaari was a man of goodwill. If anything, their relationship with the Runa villagers was improved by Supaari's intervention and aid, and Sandoz attributes much of his own understanding of Rakhat's civilization to Supaari's patient explanations. Supaari's gross betrayal of Sandoz's trust remains one of the great puzzles of the mission.

"2. Humans make tools; the Jana'ata breed theirs.

"The Runa are the hands of the Jana'ata: the skilled trades, the domestic staffs and laborers, even the civil service. But the differences in status between the Jana'ata and Runa are not merely those of class, as our people believed. The Runa are essentially domesticated animals--the Jana'ata breed them, as we breed dogs.

"The Runa do not reproduce unless their diet reaches a critical level of richness that brings on a sort of estrus. This biological fact has become the basis of the Rakhati economy. The Runa 'earn' the right to have children by cooperating economically with the Jana'ata. When a village corporate account has reached a target figure, the Jana'ata make a sufficiency of extra calories available to the villagers to allow for a controlled production of young, without risk of environmental degradation by overpopulation.

"The core values of Jana'ata society are stewardship and stability, and in keeping with this, the Jana'ata also limit their own reproduction, maintaining their numbers at approximately 4 percent of the overall Runa population. Strict lines of inheritance rule a largely ceremonial life, and only the first two children of any breeding Jana'ata couple may themselves marry and reproduce. If later-born adults decline to be neutered, they are permitted to have sex with Runa concubines, since cross-species sex carries no risk of unsanctioned reproduction. Jana'ata thirds are most commonly involved in commerce, scholarship and, evidently, prostitution. In this context, it should be noted that Supaari VaGayjur was a third.

"Moreover, and most shockingly, the Jana'ata have bred the Runa not just for intelligence and trainability, but also for meat. We have paid in lives for this knowledge, Your Holiness."

It was there that Giuliani had stopped the night before, listening for a time to the sound of Sandoz's footsteps above him. Five steps, pause; five steps, pause. At least when Emilio was pacing, one could be certain that he had not yet added his own life to the toll taken by the mission to Rakhat. . . . Sighing, Giuliani now returned to his task.

"3. The Jana'ata do not keep the Runa in stockyards.

"When Runa adults have raised their own children to the age of reproduction, the parents voluntarily give themselves up to Jana'ata patrols, who periodically round up such older adults and any substandard infants, all of whom are then butchered.

"Your Holiness must understand that our people were completely unaware of the facts underlying the relationship of the Jana'ata and the Runa when they witnessed the arrival of a culling patrol that began killing VaKashani infants. The situation was complex, and I urge you to read the transcripts of Sandoz's testimony, but the Stella Maris party perceived this incident as an unprovoked attack on the VaKashani Runa. Led by Sofia Mendes, our people resisted, several of them dying in defense of innocent children. It was this act of selfless bravery that Supaari VaGayjur characterized as incitement to rebellion among the Runa, and that the Contact Consortium later publicized as reckless and culpable interference in Rakhati affairs. It must be admitted, however, that many Runa--inspired by the courage of Sofia Mendes to protect their own children--died as a result of their defiance."

The Father General sat back in his chair. And now, he thought, the worst of it.

"After the massacre at Kashan," Giuliani began again, "there were only two survivors from the Stella Maris party. Emilio Sandoz and Father Marc Robichaux were taken prisoner by the Jana'ata patrol and force-marched for weeks, during which time they both witnessed the deaths of many Runa. They were offered food each morning, and Sandoz did not realize for some time that he was eating the meat of Runa infants; when understanding dawned, he was starving, and continued to eat the meat. This is a source of continuing shame and distress to him.

"When Supaari VaGayjur learned of their arrest, he tracked the two priests down and evidently bribed the patrol's commander, thus obtaining custody of them. Once in Supaari's compound, Sandoz was asked if he and Robichaux were willing to 'accept hasta'akala.' Sandoz believed they were being offered hospitality and agreed. To his horror, his hands and those of Father Robichaux were promptly destroyed; Robichaux bled to death as a result. Approximately eight months later, Supaari VaGayjur sold Sandoz to a Jana'ata aristocrat named Hlavin Kitheri. I hope that Your Holiness cannot imagine the brutality of the treatment to which Sandoz was subject while in Kitheri's possession."

Shuddering, the Father General stood abruptly and turned away from what he had written. "What is a whore, but someone whose body is ruined for the pleasure of others?" Emilio had asked him once. "I am God's whore, and ruined." For a time, Giuliani moved sightlessly through his office--five steps, turn; five steps, turn--until he became aware that he had unknowingly matched the pacing he heard so many nights in the bedroom above his. Finish it, he told himself, and sat once more to write.

"Months later, when the Magellan arrived in orbit around Rakhat, members of the Contact Consortium boarded the derelict Stella Maris and accessed records of the first two years of our mission. The entire Jesuit party was missing and presumed dead. The Magellan party made landfall near the village of Kashan, and were greeted with hostility and fear, in stark contrast to the welcome the Stella Maris party had received. A young Runa female named Askama told them in English that Emilio Sandoz was still alive and residing with Supaari VaGayjur in the city of Gayjur. Hoping for guidance from Sandoz, the Magellan party was taken to that city by Askama, who was clearly devoted to Sandoz.

"When they arrived in Gayjur, Supaari admitted to the Magellan party that Sandoz had been a member of his household until recently. Sandoz was now living elsewhere at his own request, Supaari told them. Supaari also gave them to believe that many lives had been lost because of the foreigners' interference in local matters. Despite this, Supaari was helpful to the Magellan party and quite happy to do business with them, although he remained evasive on the subject of Sandoz's whereabouts.

"Several weeks later, Askama had located Sandoz herself, and took the ranking members of the Magellan party to him. He was found in Hlavin Kitheri's seraglio, naked except for a jeweled collar and perfumed ribbons, the bloody effects of sodomy visible. By his own admission, Sandoz had by that time reached a state of murderous desperation. Hoping to prove himself so dangerous that he would either be left alone or executed, he had that day made Jephthah's vow: that he would kill the next person he saw. He could not have anticipated that it would be Askama, a Runa child whom he had all but raised, and whom he loved deeply.

"When Sandoz looked up from Askama's corpse and saw the Consortium officials, he laughed. I think it was his laughter that convinced them of his depravity, and of course they had Supaari VaGayjur's later assurances that Sandoz had prostituted himself at his own request. I now believe that his laughter was evidence of hysteria and despair, but they had just witnessed a murder, and under the circumstances, the Magellan party was inclined to believe the worst."

As was I, Vincenzo Giuliani thought, standing once more and walking away from his desk.

It was absurd in hindsight--the very idea that a handful of humans might have been able to do everything right the first time. Even the closest of friends can misunderstand one another, he reminded himself. First contact--by definition--takes place in a state of radical ignorance, where nothing is known about the ecology, biology, languages, culture and economy of the Other. On Rakhat, that ignorance proved catastrophic.

You couldn't have known, Vincenzo Giuliani thought, hearing his own pacing, but remembering Emilio's. It wasn't your fault.

Tell that to the dead, Emilio would have answered.

Meet the Author

Trained as a paleoanthropologist and the author of scientific articles on subjects ranging from bone biology to cannibalism, Mary Doria Russell received her B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois, her M.A. in social anthropology from Northeastern Univer-sity and her doctorate in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband and their son and is at work on her third novel.

A Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club

Brief Biography

Cleveland, Ohio
Date of Birth:
August 19, 1950
Place of Birth:
Elmhurst, Illinois
B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan

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Children of God 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Larry4change More than 1 year ago
This book is the sequel to The Sparrow, the first book was okay and I was caught by the story of Emilio the priest. I wrestled with the writing style because it is very intense labor to read. I was able to hang onto the story line but there were times I threw the book down because the writing style is so complex, I haven't finished the book yet because I find myself wishing the author would just get to the point in words that the average Joe can understand. I would not reccommend this for someone who just wants to read a good story. The writer is a scholar obviously, and to someone who cares about the intellectual parts of this book it would be great, but I have to say I enjoyed the first book more, but by the almost end of the second book I was sick to death of trying to decipher what the sentence was actually saying. I guess I'm just not smart enough for this kind of book.LOL
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Sparrow' was a wonderful novel that could stand well on its own, but 'The Children of God' is a great continuation with a more pleasing conclusion. The two books should really be read together as one, and the sequal really reads like the second act of a Broadway musical. While the first book has a more clear, concise, and driving plot, the second book ties up loose ends, characters are more well-developed, and new issues are brought to light. This is awesome reading even for people who hate science fiction, as Mary Doria Russel's books are more 'speculative' fiction with lots of intelligent research thrown in. As the first novel did, this book really provoked thoughts about faith and our very own existance and purpose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story is about humans encountering an alien civilization. But it can be read as a story about the difficulties any distinct civilzations have in understanding each other. Read this book and think of the Spanish meeting the Aztecs or the trouble we have in the WEst of understanding the ISlamic world, and vice versa. This book is about how much suffering and excitement can come from these encounters.
Camboron More than 1 year ago
Decidedly tragic, poetic, and informative of the internal struggle between faith and reason. Rarely does one encounter a sci-fi novel that transcends the genre to this extent. A classic as much as The Sparrow. Gone are the typical sci-fi alien encounter tropes that make the humans infallible, quick to learn and dominate, and capable of change. This novel reminds us of how unique, stubborn and cruel we are, by pitting us up alongside a culture and people no less cruel, ruthless, and incapable of truly understanding of others as ourselves, whether it be in Earth's past or present. The author realizes that great science fiction does not solely rely on imagination and "clever" scientific concepts, but how the genre can enrich and inform our lives by showing real people dealing with extraordinary circumstances, technologies and culture. There were many moving moments, and some take you by surprise, like Nico's offering of food to Sandoz. This novel also jumps back and forth through time to great effect. Sometimes teasing us with what may happen, and creating tension. The only criticism is a slight lag in pace with some of the political stuff, but I may have just been tired. Please read THE SPARROW, before this, and you'll see what all the fuss is about.
Kathy Dise More than 1 year ago
i read this book over ten years ago and still remember it well. it was a page turner and difficult to put down. i highlu recommend the book. it had me thinking in a whole different way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful. The most perfect sequel anyone could have asked for.
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Kept getting lost.
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Nice follow up to The Sparrow
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