Wednesday, July 9, 2008

To God or Not to God

In the month of June, for the 1% Well-Read Challenge, I read City of God by E.L.Doctorow.

A National Bestseller, it was on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list and the critics raved that it was "exquisite", "superb" and "the crowning achievement of E.L. Doctorow's career"...

I tried to like it. I think I "got it" but frankly, this book was a lot of work. It wasn't an easy read and the content grapples with science, organized religion and the presence and manifestation of God in history, in society and in individuals. At the end of the day, how does society reconcile our lives, our history with our faith and belief in God. Or is faith in God cyclical subject to the demands and/or misuse of the masses? OK, pretty heavy stuff right?

The book is laid out kind of like the Bible with many narrators and perspectives represented. Like the Bible, the book flows from one section to the next without connectivity to each other. The prose is often in the form of songs, correspondence, memoirs, biographies and scientific theories. At the end, the reader is left to interpret the content and to draw their own conclusions.

Over time, there are many characters whose perspectives re-appear, most-notably the main narrator who is a writer penning the biography of a priest who eventually leaves the church to marry a widowed-rabbi. There are theologians, holocaust survivors, filmmakers, scientists and war veterans. Debra Spincic listened to this book on tape which might make it easier to follow which character is speaking...

To me, the best part of the book comes at the very end when the ex-priest gives a "sermon" at his wedding reception. It's an exquisite piece of writing. The book is an impressive compilation of material and I won't be surprised when it shows up in modern lit courses on college campuses all over the States.

But, having just finished another book (The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell) that engaged the same topic as this novel, I felt the format of City of God was tiresome for the reader. Conversely, The Sparrow marries the scientific, religious and philosophical debates in a much more compelling and riveting way. The Sparrow kept me glued to the pages and thinking for weeks afterward. In this work, Ms. Russell took you to the highest mountains with God and to the lowest points of despair. And like City of God, you are left free to interpret where your faith lies...

Read The Sparrow and leave City of God on the shelf.

P.S. If you do read The Sparrow, drop me a note...I'd love to know what you thought of it!


sandra said...

Thanks for the review. I will go looking for 'The Sparrow', it sounds good. Your photos of the fourth of July are just wonderful.

Heather J. said...

This does sound intriguing, but I might go for the audio version.

Here's my review of The Sparrow and here's my review of the sequel, Children of God. Keep in mind that I wrote these when I was just blogging for myself, and not for other readers.

FYI, I gave The Sparrow to my dad and he just couldn't get into it. My suggestion was to treat is as a prelude to Children of God (which I think is the better of the 2 books) but that didn't help him.

Heather J. said...

Me again -

In case you're interested, I have a copy of Children of God if you'd like to borrow it (seeing as we're practically neighbors!).

Arukiyomi said...

if you are interested, there's an interactive spreadsheet available for the 1001 books list. You can get a copy from Arukiyomi's blog at

happy reading

Balwearie said...

I agree with Heather that "The Children of God" is the better of the two books. Mary Doria Russell's background in anthropology adds so much to her work.

Debra said...

I listened to City of Gods while doing some of my morning walks. The other day I was walking the same path as when I was listening to the sections about the tailor and the young boy and they came back to me as though I was listening to them firsthand. There was such power in the listening of the story that I am sorry you didn't listen to it instead of read it.

My plan for the 1000 books is to listen to the heavier, longer or what I perceive as duller books so I can make some headway on the list. It's a bit of a balance between reading & listening that seems to be working for me.

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