A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle

A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L'EngleThe heroines of this book are Camilla Xanthakos, an astronomy professor at a small New England university and her granddaughter Raffi, a student at the same school. One evening Raffi comes to Camilla’s house and asks, “are you my grandmother or not?” Camilla then delves into four generations of family history involving desertion, infidelity, miscarriage, untimely death, and a four-year-old torn from his parents. It is not until the final few pages of the book that Raffi’s true parentage is revealed.

L’Engle weaves the theme of mercy throughout the novel. Even when her life is at its most turbulent, Camilla demonstrates the strength of forgiveness and the healing nature of love. L’Engle compares the effect of God’s mercy on a troubled soul to a live coal dropped in the sea.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
We enjoyed the book although some of us found Camilla a little too good to be true. Her ability to teach university courses while raising two infants was certainly quite unusual! The group had an interesting discussion about mercy. What makes an act merciful and not simply self-serving? How can we teach our children to be merciful in an increasingly self-absorbed society? We watched a short biographical video about Madeleine L’Engle and concluded that she had modelled Camilla on herself. She used some of the same philosophical speeches, discussed galaxies and higher math and demonstrated the art of listening to trees! A very interesting lady. One member was heard to observe “I want to be like her when I grow up!”

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