A Thread of Grace

by | Mar 11, 2006

Some years back I happened on a book titled The Sparrow while browsing my local library. I devoured this wonderful novel and its sequal, The Children of God, and ever since I’ve hoped for another by the author, Mary Doria Russell. Yesterday in the Las Vegas airport, I happened upon it.
threadofgrace.jpg A Thread of Grace is set in Italy during the final years of World War II. (It opens on September 8, 1943, just as Italy and the Allies declare an armistice and German forces move in to occupy what had been Italian-occupied France. Jews from all over Europe had fled to this part of France, for the Italians, even under fascist rule, were unwilling to participate in the genocide. (One of the problems Russell cites in an interview is that the Italians were so uniformly kind to the Jews, risking and sometimes losing their lives to protect a Jewish family, that she had to manufacture rationales for this kindness so that a contemporary audience would find it believable.)
Whether set 60 years in the future, as were her first two novels, or 60 years in the past, Russell’s novels take one into the heart of what it means to be a religious being engaged in a devout or not-so-devout relationship with a maddeningly inscrutable God. Oddly, by squaring off in an unflinching face off with matters of faith, Russell awakens in us the seeds of a timeless knowing and reminds us that whether we can understand it or not, whether we like it or not, our souls recognize and resonate with the Divine.