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And the Sparrow Fell: A Novel Hardcover – September 15, 2017
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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We speak today of a divided America, but this book returns us to a Vietnam era when our nation was split to its core. And the Sparrow Fell describes in touching detail the ‘honorable wounds of war’ of those who fought to win and those who fought to end the war in Vietnam. My colleague and friend, Bob Mrazek, lived much of what he has written, and his reflection is a timely reminder of the meaning of honor and courage."—Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator from Illinois
And the Sparrow Fell gives as wonderful and accurate account of Cornell in those important years as anything I know—the histories and even the many decent books that discuss the events and their ambience that led up to the 1969 crisis don’t provide badly needed insights into the diverse characters of the time, including the students who supported the Vietnam war in the mid-1960s, and the diverse campus. This book does."—Walter LaFeber, Marie Underhill Noll Professor Emeritus of History and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow in the Department of History, Cornell University
Bob Mrazek has a wonderful feel for mood and character and time and place—all the ingredients that make his And the Sparrow Fell such a compelling novel. It grabbed me from the first page and kept getting deeper and more powerful."—David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of They Marched into Sunlight
About the Author
Robert J. Mrazek is a former Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, the writer and co-director of the film The Congressman, and the author of nine books, including two award-winning nonfiction works and seven novels, the latest being The Bone Hunters and Valhalla.
Top customer reviews
Masterful work. These days I find vanishingly few literary efforts that strike my fancy. My most frequent bookish repast consists of finding myself face to face with cookie cutter characters who radiate a monotonous sameness that cause my eyes to glaze over even as I reach for the remote control. And the Sparrow Fell generates another reaction altogether. From the Hemingway style terseness of the opening paragraphs one is inextricably drawn into the increasingly complicated world view of Rick Ledbetter – a youthful hedonist who much prefers expending his mental acumen on sexual conquests than mulling over the intricacies of a rapidly changing society. Unfortunately Rick finds the simplicity of his epicurean existence challenged first by Tom, his saintly brother, who has the temerity to actually live out his convictions, and then by the machinations of a culture transfigured by the war in Viet Nam.
Interestingly, And the Sparrow Fell, does not so much fashion a new world as transport us to a world that was (and is) – a world in which rectitude and innocence are forsaken for their darker cousins of sin and hate. Mrazek achieves this through raw, humorous, heartbreaking and authentic dialogue. The reader finds his/herself becoming one with Rick Ledbetter’s thoughts, aspirations and, ultimately, the very spirit which powers his metamorphosis. It is here, within the environs of a world in flux, that Rick Ledbetter is led to discover both love and a moral compass. And it is here that each of us are challenged to discover our own.
To pigeon hole Mrazek’s effort as simply a coming-of-age story does a disservice to the scope of this remarkable novel. And the Sparrow Fell radiates an absolute longing for something to believe in, something to hold onto, something to trust, something to love. I suspect that is why it will strike such a spiritual chord with so many. Indeed, Bob recently described to me this book as being, “all about faith.” And that it surely is. For And the Sparrow Fell dishes up the intertwining of faith and ruah, the Spirit that flows where it will, and from their marriage presents the best, and the worst, that humanity has to offer.
Rev. Chris Perkins
We think of the present as a time when Americans have never been so divided politically, but as this book illustrates beautifully, to think so is to forget the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The overturned police cars, occupied college buildings, the smell of tear gas, draft card burning, families rent asunder. Walter Cronkite giving us nightly casualty reports. The sense among so many that the government was lying to us. It was. The sense that people with money could buy their way out service, and poor people were at a disadvantage. They were.
As Senator Dick Durbin points out in his jacket comment on the back cover, Congressman Mrazek lived through that time, and knows whereof he speaks. I lived through it as well, and Mrazek has it exactly right. The end, especially, is haunting.
The author trained my focus to the Ledbetter brothers, Rick and Tom, aged twenty-two and twenty, respectfully. They had grown up on the North Shore of Long Island and shared a close relationship, yet, were split on the everyday issues of the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Or was it a war? Take your pick.
Looking to follow in his father's footsteps, Rick would soon be heading off to Officer Candidate School for the Navy. His father had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his action in World War II. He had sunk a Japanese Destroyer from his plane single-handedly with the perfect placement of a one-thousand pound bomb. Payback for the USS Arizona. Now it was his son's Rick turn to carry forward the family legacy. Big shoes to fill. American Hero. He would soon find out like so many others that he had no idea what he was getting himself into. No one did. No one ever will. His younger brother Tom was the pacifist of the family. Predictably, he was dead set against our involvement in Vietnam and spoke out about it at length at anti-war rallies. The authorities had him in their sights.
Tom was attending Cornell University religious studies. That's where Kate came into the picture. Both shared the same views. Together, they took an active stand against American policies in favor of the war. A team. When Rick met her, he was immediately infatuated. Right woman - wrong time. Though he quite wasn't ready to give up on her. Not yet anyway.
Tom was planning to return his draft card back to the draft board without claiming to be a conscientious objector. That meant federal jail time. Not a career move. All in the name of opposition to the war. Rick, on the other hand, was headed off to OCS for the Navy. He looked forward to serving his country in its time of need. Like father - like son. Politically, the brothers couldn't have been further apart.
Shortly after graduation, Rick found himself stepping onto the tarmac of an airstrip in Saigon. With little fanfare, he was shipped out to his duty station as an executive officer of a gun boat that patrolled the hostile rivers in South Vietnam. It was what he had signed up for. A highly dangerous position.
A month had gone by. He hadn't seen much action, not that he was necessarily looking for any. It was nighttime. Rick and his crew were on duty aboard one of the gunboats at the dock. During his shift, he thought he glimpsed a shadow in the water. It appeared to be moving away from the boats. Strange. There were no currents or wind to allow for that movement. Most likely, unwanted company. Taking aim, he emptied the magazine of his sidearm at the shadow in the water. Then it appeared to have stopped. Moments later, the gunboat had been ripped apart from a huge explosion. A satchel charge. The boat had begun to sink. Seriously wounded, Rick was faced with a deadly decision. One that would haunt him for the rest of his life.