Thursday, April 17, 2014


Publication date: 8 July 2014

I stayed up all night with Robert Hellenga’s beguiling schoolteacher-murderer and her talkative God, and will now re-read at leisure to savor this author’s usual grace notes: music, recipes, learning, philosophy, and travel.  The Confessions of Frances Godwin is Hellenga’s most audacious fling at just about everything in our culture. 
                                                — Gail Godwin, author of Flora

Robert Hellenga is a great storyteller and a most elegant writer. The Confessions of Frances Godwin is a page-turner that made me want to linger on the page.
                                                — Hilma Wolitzer, author of An Available Man

As enjoyable as it is profound, The Confessions of Francis Godwin, tackles our most unanswerable questions as only a novel can - not by answering them but by exploring the reasons why we ask in the first place. What did I know for sure? Francis asks herself after a long life. What insights could I count on? This is the sort of rare book where the familiar starts to look brand new, and a reader comes to understand that faith is as much about how one sees as it is about what one believes.
                                                — Peter Orner, author The Last Car Over Sagamore Bridge

The Confessions of Frances Godwin” is a journey towards the spiritual by way of the sensual: good food, music, poetry, and one amazing sports car. It’s a wonderful ride, with some unexpected and lovely detours.”
                                                — Jean Thompson, author of The Humanity Project

Sunday, March 30, 2014


            About a month ago I received a letter from a woman whose book club had been discussing The Fall of a Sparrow. Everyone was pleased with the fact that my protagonist, Woody, had recovered from the tragedy of his daughter’s death in a terrorist bombing in Italy and had gotten on with his life. But they were distressed by the epithet he chose for his daughter’s tombstone.
            The original epitaph, which Woody’s wife had chosen, was la sua voluntade รจ nostra pace, a line from Dante (“His will is our peace”).
            Woody had the stone sanded down and reinscribed with the following epitaph:

contra vim veneris
non herbam inveneris,
contra vim mortis
non crescat herba in hortis.

Against the strength of love
You will find no herb;
Against the strength of death
No herb grows in the garden.

I like this epitaph because I think it tells the truth without being morbid, but in a later novel, The Italian Lover, Woody’s wife, as she lies dying in a convent, persuades Woody to change it to “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

            Last week I received another letter:

Dear Professor Hellenga,

I just wanted you to know how pleasantly surprised I was to receive your letter. When I shared its contents with my book club, it sparked another lively discussion about which of the three epitaphs each of us would pick and why.

As a seventy-year-old woman who has been battling ovarian cancer for the last ten years, my choice was, “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow” To me, it not only means that things happen when they are supposed to but also that every life, no matter how small, has meaning. And besides, it takes us full circle back to the title of your book. (I must tell you, however, that there were others in the group that sided with you and Woody!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to share the information regarding the original source of Woody’s selection for Cookie’sl inscription, as well as his motivation for choosing it. It was interesting that it came from Bernice Fox, the very person that you were honoring with hour lecture on the date (March 3rd) I received your letter.

Best wishes in all your future endeavors. I will periodically check the shelves t Barnes and Noble for anything new under the “H”s.