Children of God is Maria Doria Russell’s sequel to The Sparrow. In her first book, we followed a Jesuit mission to another planet, which resulted in total failure, especially for its lone survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, who returns to Earth, ill and broken, under suspicion of prostitution and murder.
In the second book, we follow Sandoz’s struggle to achieve a Godless but satisfactory life on Earth, the consequences of his unwillingness to return for a second mission to the alien planet, as well as the tragic effects of the first mission on the two sentient races they left behind.
It is difficult to talk about this book without revealing the previous book’s storyline and ending, and it’s even more difficult to discuss this book’s story without giving away the salient points and ruining the reading experience.
I can, however, talk about Russell’s writing and my reaction to Children of God. Most sequels, as a rule, have disappointed me, especially if I liked the first book. It’s not the case, here. If anything, Children of God is more complex, better written, more intense than the first. So intense, in fact, that I had to set aside the book several times to center myself, find a measure of calm, digest the underlying meanings of apparently simple dialogue or character’s thoughts.
Here, Emilio Sandoz again takes center stage, but only in half of the story. He is the one we know, the one we’ve suffered with. But there are others, now: the two races of the alien planet with, in each of them, unique individuals who care passionately for life, and sometimes for just their way of life. Sandoz’s and their lives are presented to us in an intricate web of events that left me in awe about its complexity and breadth. Again, the story is about the quest of the divine, of the existence of God, of his repudiation, of God’s goals towards his children. But it is not a book about religion. It does not preach. It asks more questions than it answers, leaving us with searching our own souls for the divine.
Children of God, however, is not a story in itself, and it may be its only fault. I would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to read it without having read The Sparrow. It would also have been my loss. They are not two books, two stories, but one, split in two, even though they are pretty much indivisible. The story culminates, in all its horror, but there’s also a message in its ending. Whatever happens, in our small, short lives, it is possible to find peace.