The Fall of a Sparrow – Robert Hellenga

(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)

After reading one of my favorite books, The Italian Lover, I just wanted to grab anything related to it and its characters. Author Robert Hellenga wrote a book about the protagonist’s lover, classics professor Alan “Woody” Woodhull, in a previous novel published in 1999, The Fall of a Sparrow.


Woody’s eldest daughter, Cookie, was killed in the Bologna, Italy railway station bombing of August, 1980. This destroys his family. His wife has a nervous breakdown and later joins a convent. His other two daughters are grown, so Woody has to learn to find himself and find meaning in his life.

This doesn’t start out well. He engages in an affair with a student, for which he is disciplined for.

Still flailing, he decides to go to Bologna to attend the second part of the trial of one of the remaining terrorist who killed his daughter and eight four others.

However, his daughter Sara doesn’t understand. What will this accomplish? We learn from chapters written from her perspective that she  sees this as the beginning of the end of her family and what she imagined it to be. Of course what she doesn’t understand is that Woody is trying to find answers and make sense of this, a mass killing by a girl the same age as Cookie.

Woody rents an apartment in Bologna, writing articles to help finance this trip. In between going to the trial, he explores and experiences the beauty of Italian culture, love and in turn shares his passion of the blues guitar.

It’s not all beauty through. On the other hand, he directly faces and interacts with the terrorist’s father and the terrorist herself, still trying to understand it all.

I put off reading this book because I thought that it would be too painful and depressing. That was definitely not the case. The Fall of a Sparrow is rich with emotion, warmth and sensuality. Robert Hellenga shares his knowledge and love of Italy as well as the complexities of the human condition.

For readers who crave a read full of passion and depth, then The Fall of a Sparrow is a must-read.

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