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Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God (original 1998; edition 1999)

by Mary Doria Russell

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2,210882,939 (3.99)227
Title:Children of God
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Black Swan (1999), Edition: Tenth, Paperback, 509 pages
Collections:Read, Read but unowned

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Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (1998)


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Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
The Sparrow really touched me, and I was eager to return to Rakhat, not to mention to see how Sandoz handled his recovery. What I found was a mixed bag. A creative expansion on the world of Rakhat but a message and character development that moved in directions that left me feeling very little.

The presence of humans upset the delicate balance between the Jana’ata and the Runa. The humans demonstrated to the Runa that they didn’t need the Jana’ata, and thus a revolution was born. The thing is though this culture is just so truly alien that it’s hard to root for the Runa or the Jana’ata.

The Jana’ata have a depraved world, yes, but they are also truly predators who evolved from predators. It’s hard to hate on them when they’re basically cats walking around in medieval clothes. Well, of course they’re acting barbaric. They’re cats! And the thing is, they’re not just cruel to the Runa, they’re cruel to each other as well.

The one real disjointed bit of the narrative is that this culture reads as a developing one, as if they are from the 1200s or 1300s on Earth. Yet they somehow have enough technology that they could broadcast music to Earth? It makes no sense that they would be so backwards and yet simultaneously so advanced in science.

Similarly, the Runa are a people with a culture but they also are a prey species. They reproduce like mad when they have enough food, and they act like herd animals. Yakking constantly and with no real art or science developing. It is easy to see how these two cultures came to co-exist, as well as the fact that they need each other. Put another way, everyone thinks deer are cute, and they are. But if they exist in a world with no natural predators, they soon over-run the place until they have too much population for the land to support, and they start to starve. Yes, the co-existence between the Jana’ata and the Runa could be handled better (certainly with more clarity and more maturity) but the Runa and Jana’ata need each other. They co-evolved.My perspective on the Runa and Jana’ata impacts how I feel about the rest of the book.

Russell presents the idea that it’s ok for the Runa to become the dominant culture so long as they “allow” the “good” Jana’ata (the ones who have sworn off eating Runa and struggle along eating the eggs of some other creature that can barely sustain them. Truly barely. One character has multiple problem pregnancies due to malnutrition). Positing the idea that the Jana’ata are bad because they are predators, and the Runa are good because they are herbivores (with some outliers in both groups of course) is just hard to swallow. Bad and good is much more nuanced than that. Is a shark bad because it eats a seal because it’s hungry? No. But if a shark kills a seal because it’s fun to kill a seal and then swims off without eating it? Then one could argue that’s a bad shark with a bad nature. This level of nuance is just something I felt was missing from the book and the world.

I also found Sandoz’s path back to god to be a bit irritating, as well as the repeatedly presented idea that we can all have different interpretations of the one god, but there is definitely one. A whole alien planet with two sentient species, and no one can even entertain the idea that there might be more than one god? People are allowed to think there’s not one at all, although the book does present this as a shortcoming of those people’s natures. Basically, if they were a bit more willing to open they could at least be agnostic about the idea. The ultimate “proof” of the existence of god in the book is something that made me laugh. I won’t reveal what is found but suffice to say that if you’ve heard the argument about a watch proving there’s a watchmaker, it’s very similar to that one. After the insight and the gray areas allowed in the first book with regards to faith, I was disappointed.

If my review seems a bit mixed and all over the place that’s because that’s how this book read to me. There were chapters of beauty and then others that made me sigh and still others that made me scratch my head. It’s a mixed bag of content set in a complicated world with an ending that some readers would definitely find satisfying but I do not. I still enjoyed the read overall simply because I love visiting the world of Rakhat. But would I want to visit it again? Given the direction it was going, probably not. Although I would gladly visit the future Earth that gets to meet a Jana’ata or a Runa on our own turf.

Overall, readers of the first book who enjoyed it for Rakhat will enjoy getting to know more about both the Runa and the Jana’ata culture will enjoy the sequel, whereas those who appreciated it for its nuance and exploration of gray areas and difficult topics will be less satisfied.

Check out my full review. ( )
  gaialover | Jan 26, 2016 |
Much, much better than the first one. It took me YEARS to read this sequel because I was so upset & disappointed with the first one. ( )
  Karin7 | Jan 21, 2016 |
The follow up novel to The Sparrow, this book provided some much needed closure for me. I liked the ending of this book much more than The Sparrow's ending. Emilio Sandoz is still dealing with everything that happened to him on Rakhat and he's training the next group to travel there how to speak the two primary languages. Meanwhile one member of Sandoz's party is still alive on Rakhat and they help incite changes in the way Rakhat is run. I don't want to give too much of the plot away. My one fault with the book is that the cahracters are not developed nearly as well as the characters in The Sparrow were. I felt close to everyone on the Rakhat mission trip in The Sparrow. I feel like I barely know some of the characters who made the trip this time around. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
Audiobook performed by Anna Fields

In the sequel to Russell’s stellar The Sparrow, Father Emilio Sandoz has made significant progress in recovering from his injuries suffered on the first mission to the planet Rakhat. His body may be healed but his soul is still in turmoil, and the last thing he wants is to return to the place where all other members of the mission met their deaths. But then ….

Once again Russell gives us a morality play in a science fiction setting. I marvel at how richly imagined and intricately detailed the world of Rakhat and its inter-dependent species are. We learn what those first explorers – as well as the Runa and Jana’ata – misunderstood about these new cultures and how small mistakes led to devastating consequences. Russell shows that the influence of the humans, despite their original intention to merely observe, has drastically changed the natural balance that had existed and even led to civil war.

Even more than the first book, Russell plays with time and location, moving back and forth between Earth and Rakhat, between the “present” and the future. Time is relative, after all. This is a difficult technique to pull of and Russell does is marvelously well. However … there is one segment where she takes the characters into the future to have one of the Jana’ata explain what had happened when the humans were still traveling. This automatically lessens some of the suspense because we know the humans live. Was this done to give us hope? To reinforce the message that bad things can happen to good people? I found it jarring and felt I had missed something important until I recognized the jump in time.

This novel is also much more philosophical than her first book. The characters have significant conversations about their purpose and beliefs; they consider and are sometimes forced to listen to “the other side of the story,” changing their (and the reader’s) initial impressions of what has happened and why. And, as is suggested by the title, the story is very spiritual. I am reminded of the closing lines of John Gillespie Magee Jr’s poem High Flight
“And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

It’s a fascinating story, and gave me much to think about, so why not 5 stars? Somehow the novel lacked the impact of Russell’s first work. I think that was because too much time was spent on the civil war and various Runa and Jana’ata characters, and less time was spent with Sandoz and Mendes. THAT was the story I really wanted to know about and I felt a little disappointed in how little of the novel involved them. Additionally, as a sequel I cannot really recommend it to everyone I meet … you must have read The Sparrow first.

Anna Fields does a marvelous job performing the audio book. She has good pacing and her ease with pronouncing all those different names and foreign phrases is admirable. Her gift for voices and dialect makes it very easy to differentiate the many characters (mostly male) in the novel. Makes me wonder if Russell had the potential for audio in mind when she created the multi-cultural cast of characters.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
"When was the last time you got laid?"

The above line from Emilio Sandoz early on in the story encapsulates the subversive, understated wit that Mary Doria Russell brings to her stories. The phrase lacks context unless you're familiar with events from the previous book. It's a delicious, biting irony from a story that's about rediscovering one's faith in God.

(Minor spoilers ahead for both books of the series.)

If anyone can create a worthy sequel to The Sparrow, an astonishing debut, it would be Mary Doria Russell. Not just because it's her story, but also because she has the skill to continue a character's journey in a way that adds relevance without too much repetition. Still, Children of God is a different kind of book. The Sparrow had a clean ending even though it was one of the most heartbreaking conclusions I've ever read. I bet the author didn't originally have a part 2 in mind until her editors suggested it. Plus, I was curious to see what happens to Emilio Sandoz so not reading Children of God wasn't really an option. It runs at a slower pace and much of the alien mystique of the people of Rakkat is lessened because they're not so alien any more. Basically, if you're the type of reader that needs closure, read Children of God. Heck, read it anyway. It's worth it. A small part of me though wishes I had stopped after The Sparrow. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Sep 17, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
di Bodone,GiottoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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hermanas de mi alma
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Sweating and nauseated, Father Sandoz sat on the edge of his bed with his head in what was left of his hands.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 044900483X, Paperback)

Children of God is the sequel to Mary Doria Russell's 1996 The Sparrow, which saw a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat end in disaster. The sole survivor of that mission, a priest named Emilio Sandoz, returned a beaten and broken man, having suffered rape and mutilation at the hands of enigmatic aliens. Now the Jesuits want to go back to Rakhat, and they want Sandoz aboard the new mission. But Sandoz has renounced his priesthood and even found a measure of happiness with his new wife and stepdaughter. Meanwhile, on Rakhat, contact with the humans has thrown the local culture into turmoil, precipitating a war between Rakhat's two sentient races. As forces conspire to send Emilio back to Rakhat--and toward a possible reconciliation with God--the planet verges on genocidal destruction. Children of God is a more polished novel than The Sparrow, and the story is equally compelling.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:11 -0400)

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A priest named Emilio Sandoz embarks on a quest to demystify God's providence that leads him to question the possibility of faith.

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