Sophia House


Sophia House is set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Pawel Tarnowski, a bookseller, gives refuge to a Jewish youth (David Schäfer) 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, the two 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 and is the Carmelite priest, Fr. Elijah, called by the Pope to confront the Antichrist in Michael O’Brien’s novel, Father Elijah: an apocalypse. 

In this “prequel” the author explores the meaning of love, religious identity, and sacrifice viewed from two distinct perspectives. Sophia House also examines the ways in which symbols function in the mind and heart, especially the damaged symbols of male and female, father and mother. The power of symbolic “language”, he demonstrates, is fundamental to how we integrate truth and love. If we lose symbolism, we lose a primary way of knowing things. If we destroy symbols, we destroy concepts. If we corrupt symbols, concepts are corrupted, and then we lose our ability to understand things as they are, rendering us vulnerable to deformation of our perceptions and our actions.

The cast of characters includes the notorious Count Smokrev, a terrifying Polish bear, a literate Nazi Major, a French novelist, 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.

“If, like me, you rate Michael O’Brien as the best contemporary Catholic novelist of the North American Continent, then you will very likely also think that Sophia House is his masterpiece.”
— Ronda Chervin, Ph.D., Author, Kiss from the Cross

“O’Brien paints with a vast palette that brings the reader into his world . . . weaving a tapestry of Jewish and Christian themes that emerges as a poetic story of salvation.”
— Marty Barrack, Author, Second Exodus

“Anyone looking for a splendid novel that grapples seriously with religious ideas would do well to seek out Sophia House. . .  . Rest assured: Sophia House works as a thriller—a human drama—as well as a novel of ideas.”
— Michael Potemra, National Review

“Michael O’Brien delves into the human psyche, painting the landscape of the image of God that impregnates the personhood of every soul. He supplies insights into the realities of the human condition, insights into the realities of art, and provides an escape into the inscape of things. Sophia House confirms O’Brien’s place and reputation as a novelist of the first order.”
— Joseph Pearce, Author, Tolkien: Man and Myth

— Interview with Michael D. O’Brien on His Latest novel, Sophia House:

OTTAWA, September 30, 2005 ( – Michael O’Brien has written six novels, all of which have been published by Ignatius Press of San Francisco over the past nine years. Father Elijah was his first and after its publication in 1996 quickly became a best-seller, and continues to sell briskly. His most recent is Sophia House, published in spring of this year. It too has become a best seller, and has received rave reviews in both religious and secular media, ranging from The National Review, numerous diocesan papers throughout North America, and such flagships of secular journalism as The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A theme running through all of O’Brien’s books is the need for the rediscovery of fatherhood in Western civilization.

O’Brien told, “Not only a rediscovery but a move into new dimensions of fatherhood, which I believe can be only fully found in the graces given by the Christian Faith. The spiritual fathers of the Catholic Church, such as John Paul II, have repeatedly called men to discover this reality by reconnecting their lives to the fatherhood of God. In a talk he gave in Palermo, Italy in March of 2000, then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said he believed the gravest danger now facing mankind is the destruction of the image of God, by reducing fatherhood to a merely biological phenomenon. From this has come much of the destructive trends of our era.”

In the address, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said: “Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. The dissolution of fatherhood and motherhood is linked to the dissolution of our being sons and daughters.”

O’Brien’s novel Sophia House examines in depth the plight of several characters caught in the grip of the Nazi invasion of Poland, and how their lack of psychological and/or moral formation affects their reactions to the challenge of evil. Set in Warsaw from 1942-43, the story deals in part with the subject of homosexuality.

It presents a number of characters who struggle with this tendency, ranging from a deranged paedophiliac, to a completely corrupt Polish Count, as well as a fallen though not so corrupt French novelist. And finally: the central character, who is a devout Catholic struggling successfully to overcome temptations and to do good in the world against all odds.

Sophia House candidly presents the various choices a homosexual person can make, and demonstrates that it is possible to live as a faithful Christian-though it will demand much sacrifice.

“To be a disciple of Jesus,” O’Brien says, “always demands sacrifice. Every one of us must embrace our crosses daily and follow him, no less for the heterosexual than for the homosexual. Though the burdens may in some ways be greater for the latter, these are potentially high in merit, and if chastity is wholeheartedly embraced can bring about much good fruit in the lives of others.”

But Sophia House is not a homosexual novel, nor is it specifically about homosexuality as such. There are numerous good and evil heterosexual characters as well. The other central figure in the story is the young Father Elijah who is the main character of O’Brien’s Father Elijah: an apocalypse. The events portrayed in Father Elijah take place more than half a century after those of Sophia House.

O’Brien believes that the loss of spiritual fatherhood in the modern age is a problem that runs deeply through our society, indeed affecting just about everyone. “Homosexuality,” he maintains “is the most visible example of a profound lack in the heart of modern man, an unacknowledged need, our basic human hunger to know God as Father. Whether we realize it or not, it is impossible to fully know ourselves until we come to know Him.”

To learn more about the series of novels written by Michael O’Brien, visit the author’s page at Ignatius Press, and follow the links to interviews with the author:

To order this book, please visit: 



or: Chapters, Borders, W. H. Smith, and other bookstores