Author of spacy thriller brings book action to PCPL

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Jesuits in space."

These three words are how author Mary Doria Russell sums up the plot of her book and soon-to-become a major motion picture, "The Sparrow."

Luckily, for those who plan to see her when she speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Putnam County Public Library, Russell promises not to use such a thrifty vocabulary when addressing the Putnam County crowd.

Warner Bros. has plans to produce the movie which would be based on a combination of two of her books "The Sparrow" and "Children of God", potentially starring Brad Pitt, she said.

However, the former anthropology professor says she won't get her hopes up about the project until she is, "eating a breakfast burrito on the set."

"There is no such thing as a green light," Russell said of getting a movie studio to pick up a book for production. "We have been trying to get this made since 1996. The adrenaline has drained out of the whole process."

She said Universal had originally planned to produce a film version of the novels starring Antonio Banderas, but that project was dropped after three years.

With the new studio, she said she has more cause for confidence.

"The guy who wrote the screenplay for Warner Brothers, Michael Seitzman, wrote "North Country", which Charlize Theron had an Oscar nomination for her role," she said. "So I have the impression we are on a lot firmer ground this time."

Seitzman's "The Sparrow" script carries the plot of Russell's story about a Jesuit (Catholic) mission to another planet.

"I am taking the experience of early explorers in a new world and updating it by 500 years," Russell said of the plot to the two books now to be a movie. "I am taking people, good, well meaning people, and putting them in that same position of radical ignorance."

With a budget of $150 million for the movie version of "The Sparrow", one would have to expect an explosive setting. Of course, Russell's books take place in space.

"You can't tell (that kind of story) anywhere but on another planet," she said. "There is no place left on earth where people can be that ignorant."

Taking a drastic turn from the outer space adventures is Russell's latest book, "Thread of Grace."

It is this novel which Russell will primarily speak about as part of the PCPL Author's Series Thursday.

"It is about the Jewish underground near Genoa during the Nazi occupation of Italy," she explained of the book, which she spent seven years researching.

The Pulitzer Prize nominated novel tells the stories behind the hiding of Jews in Italy during World War II.

"Eighty-five to 87 percent of Jews in Italy survived the Holocaust," she said of the topic of her novel. "During a 20-month occupation, not one Jew was betrayed. (More than) 50,000 Jews were hidden and no one was ratted out."

Personally for Russell, the book has brought together the cultures of her Catholic upbringing and her conversion to Judaism as an adult. Spirituality is something frequently visited in her books and is a topic she said she especially delved deeper into while raising her son Daniel.

"In our own particular culture, when your kids say, 'well, what do we think,' it becomes a framework to begin to reassess religion," she said.

Russell said Judaism especially has fulfilled that need.

"In many ways the essence of Judaism is to bring up a child who would want to be good," she said.

Mary Doria Russell will speak at the Kiwanis Room of the library at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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