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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The Fall of the Sparrow by Robert Hellenga is a proud testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Like his critically acclaimed debut novel, The Sixteen Pleasures, The Fall of the Sparrow links the American Midwest and Italy. Yet while the The Sixteen Pleasures explores a young girl's sexual awakening, The Fall of the Sparrow offers a powerful tale about one family's struggle to heal itself after the tragic death of its eldest daughter. This powerful novel demonstrates how, in the author's words, "it's not the great stories that give meaning to the little ones; it's the other way round."
At the heart of the novel is Alan "Woody" Woodhull, an enthusiastic blues guitar-playing classics professor at St. Clair, a small midwestern college. His beloved daughter, Cookie, was killed in Italy in a neofascist terrorist bombing in 1980. When the story begins, seven years after the bombing, Woody is painfully alone: His wife, Hannah, has left him and entered a convent, and his two surviving daughters have moved on and left home. He finds himself at the crossroads of grief, convinced that life has dished him all the lessons there are to learn, yet unable to lose the hope that something else must be in store for him.
Two events send Woody into a life-altering tailspin: the arrest of Angela Starppalfelci, the woman who placed the bomb in the train station, and an intense sexual affair with one of his students. The fallout from these events irrevocably changes the course of his life, forcing him to abandon his teaching job and leavetheUnited States to attend the terrorist's trial. As his vita nuova begins, Woody gradually emerges from his sorrow and is awakened to new, promising love in Italy.
The character of Woody is an "impressively well-rounded and endearingly decent human being" (Kirkus Reviews), and readers will come to care about him as if he were a family member. A blues aficionado (Woody sings and is partial to National Steel guitars), he revels in le cose buone della vita — including Greek, Latin, and Persian fables, the hooting of owls, and all things Italian, including spaghetti carbonara.
The Fall of the Sparrow has already received rave reviews. Check out what Publishers Weekly had to say:
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 weaves the stands of his plot so adroitly that each surprising twist seems inevitable.... Hellenga's humane voice, his ability to illuminate the profundities in life in scenes of domestic relationships as well as those set on a larger stage, give this memorable novel powerful emotional appeal and literary stature.