An excellent end to an excellent series *****
Sophia House is the last book in Michael O'Brien's
"Children of the Last Days" series, and is a great end. A prequel to
"Father Elijah," the book begins with a powerful politician campaigning in
Israel in the 1960s, and is confronted by a woman who knows his real name:
After the prelude, we see a dramatic escape from the Warsaw Ghetto by a
young Jewish boy, who is quickly taken in by a bookseller named Pawel
Tarnowski. Sophia House gives some background on Pawel's life, and the
reader is priveleged to read a play about the Russian icon painter, Andrei
Rublev, right in the middle of the book, written by (the fictional
character of) Pawel Tarnowski.
All of the elements that captivated the fans of O'Brien's other novels are
here: exploration of the nature of faith, deep dialogue, extensive
character development, and a writing style that makes the reader want to
keep on going. Most important, O'Brien demonstrates, through fiction, the
beauty of faith and grace.
I highly recommend this book; fans of O'Brien will love it, fans of good
Catholic literature will love it, and fans of good literature period will
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Catholic cosmology at the individual level *****
In Sophia House Michael O'Brien succeeds in painting
a very sensitive - and captivating - portrait of a man's soul. The primary
character, Pawel Tarnowski is a Polish Catholic who is swept up in the
modernist intellectual movements of the early twentieth century. Sophia
House chronicles his journey away from and back to his native Poland and
his Catholic faith.
Much of the book is set in Nazi occupied Warsaw, with the narrative
focused on the relationship between Pawel and a young Jewish man he hides
from the Nazis. Mr. O'Brien never stoops to caricature, portraying all of
his characters - including the Nazis - as humans, who bearing the lasting
imprint of the wound of original sin, either struggle mightily to rise
above the gravitational pull toward evil or give up and succumb to its
Particularly moving is Mr. O'Brien's depiction of Pawel's struggle with
homosexual attraction. His insights into and deep understanding of the
emotional and spiritual struggles undertaken by Catholic Christians in
this condition are remarkable for their nuance, their truth, and their
compassion. As an orthodox Catholic, Mr. O'Brien understands that the
central, and unavoidable, duty in a Christian's life is to "take up one's
cross", to sanctify one's suffering, and finally to be "crucified" with
Christ. Nowhere does Mr. O'Brien fall into the trap of assuming that this
is easy, and it shows in the struggles faced by Pawel.
But struggle and suffering are only half of the story. Mr. O'Brien does an
excellent job of anchoring this call to suffering in what can only be
described as a Catholic cosmology. In Sophia House, the supernatural is
never far off, especially when it seems most distant. God, His angels, the
Blessed Virgin, and Satan inhabit the spaces between the lines of text. At
times they make an appearance - Mr. O'Brien rightly takes for granted
their reality - by way of drawing back, if only for a moment, the veil
between this physical world and the eternal realms. In doing this Mr.
O'Brien situates the characters' struggles in a heavenly context, thereby
giving the characters untold dignity and infusing the spiritual struggles
of the lone individual - including those of the reader - with a great,
indeed cosmic, importance.
An Excellent and Thoughtful Book *****
Michael O'Brien's books have a rare depth to them
not found in much of today's popular literature. This book (a prequel to
Michael O'Brien's 'Father Elijah') explores many important spiritual and
cultural and historical topics, while telling the story of a young Jewish
boy being hidden by a disillusioned Polish bookseller in Warsaw during
World War II. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to read a
book that entertains you while making you think.