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The Fall Of A Sparrow

The Fall Of A Sparrow


  • reading group guide
Robert Hellenga, bestselling author of The Sixteen Pleasures, once again reveals his profound understanding of the strength and resilience of the human spirit in a compelling and masterful novel.
Alan Woodhull ("Woody"), a classics professor at a small Midwestern college, finds himself convinced that life has taught him all the lessons he has to learn: After the tragic death of his beloved oldest daughter during a terrorist bombing in Italy seven years ago, his wife has left him and his two remaining daughters have grown up and moved away. Yet his decision to attend the trial of the terrorists and to return to the scene of the tragedy marks the beginning of a new life and the awakening of a new love.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 464 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780684850276 | 
  • July 1999
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Mountain of Lights
On Friday, August 15, 1980 -- Assumption Day, the middle of the August holidays -- a bomb exploded in the train station in Bologna, Italy, killing eighty-six people, including my sister Cookie, who was sitting in the second-class waiting room, about two meters from where the bomb went off, waiting for a train back to Rome.
The station has been repaired, of course, but part of it -- part of the waiting room -- was left the way it had been after the bombing. You can see the bomb crater, which is about the size of a bowling ball. I didn't see it myself till years later, but I often imagined it. Daddy had a... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
Discussion Points
  1. One of the most significant changes in Woody is his transformation from a routine-oriented man who avoids change into a political activist whose primary purpose is to bring about change. Compare this transformation with that of Hannah. Discuss how two people who appear to have similar goals and values can choose such radically different paths after being touched by tragedy.
  2. In addition to the world of Homer and other ancient writers, Woody deeply connects with the emotional lyrics found in blues music. What do these two markedly different art forms have in common? Discuss why Woody is so fascinated with each one. Can the blues offer him something that the classics cannot, and vice versa?
  3. At virtually every important moment in his life, Woody discusses ancient history and classic literature. Is he looking for history to shed light on these events, to somehow guide him? Is he attempting to divert attention away from the situation at hand? Does he discuss academia because it is one of the few subjects he feels secure about?
  4. In one way, Woody's renewed interest in playing the guitar symbolizes the beginning of a new chapter in his life. But one of the main reasons that this music gives him comfort is because it reminds him of the past. Is Woody truly moving on? Discuss other events that mark new phases in Woody's life.
  5. Why does Woody admit only to Turi that he is afrai
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About the Author

Robert Hellenga
Photo Credit: Anthony Loew



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