A Thread of Grace  

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Thread of Grace

By Mary Doria Russell, 2005

You should know

One of the welcoming activities I participated in when I first arrived at my undergrad was an optional seminar on the book The Sparrow. This book, about a team of Jesuits who set off on a mission to another planet, soon became one of my favorite novels, and I even got my copy signed by the author. It was then promptly chewed up by my dog. Figures.

I soon bought the sequel, Children of God. While not quite as enjoyable as the first book, it ties up a lot of loose ends and gives the reader a sense of what happened to the people touched by the Jesuit team.

When I found out Russell had published another novel, I looked forward to its paperback release, and snapped it last spring.


The story tells of a group of Jewish refugees in occupied Italy during World War II. Not light reading, obviously.

It’s a little hard to tell the different parties apart – followers of Mussolini and Hitler, Italian Nationalists, and invading soldiers and refugees from a variety of nations take turns being sympathetic and villainous. It sometimes takes a moment – or a glance at the cast of characters – to recall who is on which side, and maybe it’s my shaky historical knowledge, but passing references to “the partisans” leave me wondering just which party we’re talking about now.

Also, this is a war novel, so while I won’t drop spoilers, I will say to never expect any character to survive. Some do, many don’t. The more intelligent characters know their lives are at stake. You should remember that.

The pacing is fast, and I picked up more on the second read than on the first. Compelling characters live frantic lives, and you might find yourself feeling for someone you might normally find disgusting, or shaking your head at a character who is, on the surface, a hero. Either way, there are so many fully-fleshed characters that you’re sure to find one to stand behind.


Check it out – unless…
...You hate war stories, or despised Russell’s other work. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book. In fact, if anyone has a book club, this one would make for good discussion; it even has a study guide in the back.

The rest of the Internet

A review at BookReporter.
Praise for the historical aspects at Salon.
A very in-depth review at Eve's Alexandria.
An interview with the author at BookPage.
An enthusiastic review at January Magazine.
Allison at Sparsile gives her impressions of the book three-quarters of the way through.

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