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Sophia House: A Novel (Children of the Last Days)

Sophia House: A Novel (Children of the Last Days) [Kindle Edition]

Michael O'Brien
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Sophia House is set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Pawel Tarnowski, a bookseller, gives refuge to David Schäfer, a Jewish youth who has escaped from the ghetto, and hides him in the attic of the book shop. Throughout the winter of 1942-43, haunted by the looming threat of discovery, they discuss good and evil, sin and redemption, literature and philosophy, and their respective religious views of reality. Decades later, David becomes a convert to Catholicism, is the Carmelite priest Fr. Elijah Schäfer called by the Pope to confront the Anti-christ in Michael O'Brien's best-selling novel, Father Elijah: an Apocalypse.

In this "prequel", the author explores the meaning of love, religious identity, and sacrifice viewed from two distinct perspectives. The cast of characters also includes the notorious Count Smokrev, a literate Nazi Major, a French novelist, a terrifying Polish bear, the Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev, and Pawel's beloved Kahlia, the elusive figure who moves through the story as an unseen presence. As the story unfolds, the loss of spiritual fatherhood in late Western society is revealed as a problem of language in the heart and soul, and as one of the gravest crises of our times. As the author points the way to rediscovery of our Father in heaven, he also shows us the path to renewal of human fatherhood. This is a novel about small choices that shift the balance of the world.


The long-awaited prequel to the acclaimed best-seller, "Father Elijah", "Sophia House" is set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Pawel Tarnowski, a bookseller, gives refuge to David Schafer, a Jewish youth who has escaped from the ghetto, and hides him in the attic of his bookshop. Throughout the winter of 1942 - 43, haunted by the looming threat of discovery, they discuss good and evil, sin and redemption, literature and philosophy. Decades later, David is to become a convert to Catholicism: he will be the Carmelite priest Father Elijah called by the Pope to confront the Antichrist in Michael O'Brien's best-selling novel of the same name. In this "prequel", the cast of characters includes the notorious Count Smokrev, a French novelist, a terrifying Polish bear, a Nazi major, the Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev, and Pawel's beloved Kahlia, the elusive figure who moves through the story as an unseen presence. This is a novel about small choices that shift the balance of the world. Other titles in this series: "Father Elijah", "Plague Journal", "Strangers and Sojourners", "Eclipse of the Sun", and "A Cry of Stone".

Michael O'Brien is also a well-known artist, specialising in religious themes.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 531 KB
  • Print Length: 500 pages
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0026OQZ6G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #525,063 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual Delight 29 Sep 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
As a long standing fan of the Children of the Last Days series, I was delighted to finally get the chance to read Sophia's House, and it didn't disappoint.

O'Brien's style isn't the most compelling among contemporary authors, nor does he quite match such great story tellers as Geoffrey Archer, but what he does bring is a fascinating and riviting ability to bring some of the great truths of the spiritual life and weave them into some of the most significant events and trends of recent history through convincing characters. I found my own inner struggles and blessings echosed in events that unfolded in the book, and was left seeing myself more deeply and clearly than perhaps I would have liked! He has his pulse on the spiritual arteries of those of us born in the latter part of the 20th century, and places our struggles for holiness and meaning within the widest possible historical sweep - the Apocalypse.

Sometimes he does sacrifice the nuances of life as we actually live it to some of the stereotypes that make arguments easy. An example woud be the central character's struggles with homosexuality which isn't really explored as a lived experience but as an issue, as an evil to be simply resisted. The hero of the book resits, the characters that dont are creepy, nasty, manipulative, shallow etc. This is in contrast with his ability to portray sterotypically evil groups, such as Nazis, with considerable nuance so as to show redemption, humanity and goodness bursting through a messy, dark and oppressive world.

But at core this is a book that shows a particular man's soul as he is chased by his unseen demons, and finds the way to finally face them and so emerge as a truely heroic human being. This is what made the book INSPIRING, even if at times it dragged a little or seemed rather superficial. It is well worth pressing on and not getting distracted by those weaknesses because it is a book that wil actually open your mind to others, and yourself.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent end to an excellent series. 14 Aug 2005
By Jay Young - Published on
Sophia House is the last book in Michael O'Brien's "Children of the Last Days" series, and is a great end. A prequel to "Father Elijah," the book begins with a powerful politician campaigning in Israel in the 1960s, and is confronted by a woman who knows his real name: David Schaefer.

After the prelude, we see a dramatic escape from the Warsaw Ghetto by a young Jewish boy, who is quickly taken in by a bookseller named Pawel Tarnowski. Sophia House gives some background on Pawel's life, and the reader is priveleged to read a play about the Russian icon painter, Andrei Rublev, right in the middle of the book, written by (the fictional character of) Pawel Tarnowski.

All of the elements that captivated the fans of O'Brien's other novels are here: exploration of the nature of faith, deep dialogue, extensive character development, and a writing style that makes the reader want to keep on going. Most important, O'Brien demonstrates, through fiction, the beauty of faith and grace.

I highly recommend this book; fans of O'Brien will love it, fans of good Catholic literature will love it, and fans of good literature period will love it. 5 out of 5.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story of a soul 22 Sep 2005
By Nancy K. Oconnor - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a preview to the book Father Elijah, but it is actually the story of the spiritual struggles of the hero, Pawel Tarnowsky.

Superficially, the plot is about how the owner of "Sophia House" bookstore, who one day is confronted with a Jewish lad fleeing from the Nazis. He takes him in, and hides him, and they converse about various things, and at the climax, Pawel stays behind so David can get away.

But the real story is Pawel's spiritual journey. He must not only confront and overcome his own sinful impulses, but his main struggle is to be healed in the wounds of his own soul. So we see a man struggling with loneliness, homosexuality, and unforgiveness...and the real climax is when he learns to feel charity for those who hurt him, because he learns to see them as hurt and wounded children rather than as evil sinners...

The "old fashioned" morality behind this struggle will put off many. And the compassionate viewing of a holy gay man will turn off many rigid moralists.

But for those who wish to see a sensitive portrayal of a man's journey to wholeness and peace, then I recommend this book..
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two grievously wounded men search for God and find Him in each other. 22 Jun 2006
By Teófilo de Jesús - Published on
Michael O'Brien's Sophia House is the "prequel" to another masterpiece of his, Father. Elijah: An Apocalypse, which I've also reviewed.

In Sophia House, O'Brien reintroduces us to a young David Schäfer, who was to become Father Elijah much later. O'Brien paints for us David's existence in his hiding place in Warsaw, the dusty attic of Pawel Tarnowski's bookshop, which O'Brien previously sketched in Father. Elijah: An Apocalypse.

Now, in Sophia House, O'Brien slowly--at times, too slowly--paints the relationship that developed between David, the fugitive son of a Jewish Orthodox zadiq or "saint" who was killed in the Holocaust, and Pawel Tarnowski, a book antiquarian and a frustrated artist with a secret: he suffers from same-sex attraction. Tarnowski is a homosexual person, psychologically damaged in his childhood when a granduncle and failed priest molested him. Tarnowski spent his life resisting his inclination, first by pursuing an artistic vocation and then, by practicing prayer and contemplation. Slowly, steadily, God turned him into a mystic with the mission of being the protector of a young man who later became God's instrument in a critical mission at the End Times.

The encounter between David and Tarnowski triggered an exchange of ideas and dreams. Their tragedies became intertwined. David becomes aware of something wonderful, ineffable, transcending the confines of his rich Jewish faith, yet he never embraced in this insight in this book. Tarnowski, on the other hand, in an ultimate act of love--charis, agape--becomes Jewish without stopping from being Catholic. How is this possible? Because he took David's place in the gas chamber, giving his life for the young man and in atonement for his own sins and that of others, forgiving all, forgiving even himself. Tarnowski becomes a Christ figure in the worst place on earth.

Well, I love this book, but I warn the reader that Sophia House is more cerebral than Father. Elijah: An Apocalypse. It is not as fast-paced as the previous work. Tarnowski's circumspect, taciturn nature is so intense that some of the dialogues seemed to drag on too long for him. Tarnowski's nature makes him too detached and a reluctant participant in these exchanges that so captivated David. O'Brien gets it right at the end but while one wades through these chapters, one wonders if the dialogue would get deeper, or if it will ever end with some resolution. This defect is very minor and it does not affect the novel's trajectory and goal, which are a meditation on the nature of good and evil and of the God who is present in the worst places, at the worst times, shining through deeply flawed human beings striving to keep His Image and Likeness pristine in their souls.

All things considered: Sophia House is good. It is literature, and that's the best thing I can say of any book I read.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophia House is a great read! 2 Oct 2005
By Nannette - Published on
I highly recommend Sophie House! The author dedicates this book this way, "For those whose sacrifice is hidden in the heart of God, those whose "small" choices shift the balance of the world" and that says it all. This book leaves a simple reader with the belief that (a paraphrase from a character), " a life is a word spoken" Unforgettable!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful end to the collection 16 Sep 2005
By Silvina - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Beautiful, deep book, and definitely one of my favourites of the "Children of the last days" collection... wonderful character insights, and beautiful imaginery...
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"We wish to be worthy of being saved", Father Andrei continued. "Which is another way of saying that we, every one of us, whether we know it or not, wish to be our own god, that is, to save ourselves. We want paradise without his Cross, forgetting that the Cross is the only way to reenter the original harmony we lost in the Fall of Man. This is the narrow gate." &quote;
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There are burdens, even heavy burdens, that ease the weight of a man's life. And there are burdens that, when they are lifted from a man's life, will crush him." &quote;
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"It is very difficult", he said aloud. "It is very difficult for a man to believe that God loves him, if he does not know the love of another human being." &quote;
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