The Fall of a Sparrow

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In THE FALL OF A SPARROW Robert Hellenga returns to the Midwestern and Italian themes he melded so successfully in THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES (1994). While his earlier novel focused on a young Midwestern woman searching to understand herself and her family relationships as she restored books damaged in the flood of 1966 in Florence, THE FALL OF A SPARROW centers around a father and daughter as they come to terms with the disintegration of their family following the death of Cookie, their daughter and sister, in the terrorist bombing of the central train station in Bologna, Italy, in 1980.

The father, Alan Woodhull, responds to the death of his daughter and to the emotional alienation of his distraught wife, who eventually enters a convent, by rediscovering his love for the guitar, having a passionate affair with a student, and losing his position teaching Classics at a small Midwestern college. Woodhull escapes to Italy where he observes the trial of the terrorists who killed his daughter, befriends the father of one of them, and creates a new life for himself as a guitarist in a trattoria in Bologna.

His daughter Sara feels the loss not only of her dead sister and her cloistered mother but also of the beloved family farm and her expatriate father. She moves to Chicago in search of work, obtains a position at the Museum of Science and Industry, and has an affair with a married co-worker before she finds renewed meaning in marriage and approaching motherhood.

THE FALL OF A SPARROW is a reflection upon the fragility and resilience of family ties. It is a story of loss and rejuvenation, of hatred and forgiveness, of self-destruction and salvation based upon Italian culture, sexuality, cooking, music, and Woodhull’s beloved Classical literature.