The Sparrow

The Sparrow

Book - 1997
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A visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry, The Sparrow tells the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a scientific mission entrusted with a profound task: to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, but a series of small misunderstandings brings it to a catastrophic end.

Praise for The Sparrow

"A startling, engrossing, and moral work of fiction." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them." -- Entertainment Weekly

"Powerful . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"Provocative, challenging . . . recalls both Arthur C. Clarke and H. G. Wells, with a dash of Ray Bradbury for good measure." -- The Dallas Morning News

"[Mary Doria] Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense." -- USA Today
Publisher: New York : Ballantine Books, 1997, c1996.
Edition: 1st ed. --
ISBN: 9780449912553
0449912558
Branch Call Number: FIC Russe
Characteristics: 408 p.

Opinion

From Library Staff

Travels to alien planet go awry as protagonists come to terms with new race. 1998: The Sparrow won the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and Tiptree annual science fiction book awards (below), and it was the basis for Russell winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1998.

Comment
lms Apr 10, 2008

The ethics of globalization, colonization and faith are raised in this tale of galactic exploration.
There is romance, tragedy, science, mystery, and conflict in the story. While comparisons pale - if you normally don't read fantasy but liked Avatar - try this. See how far the premise of exploi... Read More »


From the critics


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c
CMLibrary_gjd_0
Jun 22, 2017

One of the best books I've ever read! Great, wonderful and thought provoking, this is a must read for anyone interested in human nature and what it means to be "good". Any book club discussing the themes in this work will not be disappointed. I'm going to read the follow up (Children of God) soon, but I need to let this marinate in my brain for awhile. If you think "literature" (or even Sci-Fi) isn't for you , you should pick this book up today!

e
ejwheels
Feb 16, 2016

I quit half way through and I don't even care what happens to these characters! I am surprised that so many loved this one. It sorely needed a good editor. So much of the book felt like character filler that just went on and on.

cgreenly15 Nov 14, 2015

The book kept me reading to see what would happen to Emilio. But it was recommended to me by a librarian for my twelve year old. This is not a book for a tween. So I am glad I read it first

d
danielestes
Sep 22, 2015

After reading the prologue and that haunting plea—"They meant no harm"—this rush of foreboding came over me and I sensed I was at the beginning of something extraordinary.

And I was not disappointed. Mary Doria Russell has crafted a gripping tale of what happens when good intentions meets, no, collides with, raw nature. Only the description "gripping tale" barely scratches the surface. There's so much more going on here: philosophy, religion, anthropology, linguistics, the relativistic effects of interstellar travel, social evolution, betrayal, and a test of faith unlike any I've ever read.

The Sparrow was an ideal recommendation for me. I love science fiction, though I especially love the not-too-distant-future sci-fi where the "what if?" scenarios are just as close to reality as fantasy. I want to be able to look ahead and think, yes, events could play out this way. Carl Sagan's Contact comes to mind. I'm also an agnostic who enjoys pondering the humanistic side of the faith question. Many dismiss "skeptic" and "faith" as mutually exclusive, but I find dilemmas like a crisis of belief, for example, to be one of the most intensely vulnerable and human experiences we wrestle with.

Mary Doria Russell writes with sincerity, precision and a playfulness that will not be contained. Consider me a new fan. I only wish I had discovered her sooner.

t
TheAmyLu
Jun 09, 2015

Anne and George are the coolest married couple ever.

WVMLStaffPicks Dec 23, 2014

A charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist leads a twenty-first century scientific mission to a newly discovered extraterrestrial culture in search of spiritual treasure, but nothing can prepare them for the civilization they encounter. Russell creates memorable, strong characters who navigate the world of exciting ideas and disturbing moral issues without ever losing their humanity or humor.

multcolib_rachaels May 29, 2014

Father Emilio Sandoz is a Jesuit linguist who is one of the first to visit the first planet found with intelligent life. His experience is a harrowing illustration at how deeply you can misunderstand words when they a from an experience that is alien.

k
Knitwit50
Oct 23, 2013

My all time favorite book. Out of this world characters, you inhabit their skins, horrifying deeds done in the name of God and man, rich worlds and vistas and the drama of human emotions.

a
athena14
Aug 13, 2013

I abandoned the book after forcing myself through 14 chapters. Emilio's wonderfulness was as unbearable for me as Sofia's life history and genius.

d
drok77
Apr 08, 2013

I have to call this a "good" book because it caused an explosion of ideas and concepts in my head while reading it. I was impressed with the range of themes this story contains. It's theological, sociological, anthropological, psychological, and philosophical, with a fair amount of heavy science thrown in to keep the sci-fi nerds pleased. The characters are all just a bit too unbelievable for me though. Emilio was the worst. I could not relate to him throughout any of the book. He came across as whiny even before all the trauma he'd suffer on the alien planet. I also thought his relationship with Supaari after everyone else died was uncharacteristic. Yes, Emilio was mortified with grief at first, but he completely failed to communicate well with Supaari. In every other mission the priest had been on, everyone sort of falls in love with him, yet Supaari is utterly bored with him, so it was unbelievable when the alien discards him. Anne and Sofia were unrealistically perfect female characters. Any flaw they had was somehow excused, justified, or reconciled in some way or another. I love strong female characters, but they have to remain human. The author admitting that she saw herself as Anne was self-promoting and awkwardly narcissistic. I have so much trouble with the event that caused all the trouble of Rahkat, the alien planet: planting a garden with Earth plants. WTF?! I'm no type of scientist and I was appalled at the concept. Endangering the ecosystem and introducing the concept of farming to a sentient species who did not have it as part of their lives is such an obvious abomination, even though I'm not a naturalist (like the character Marc) or an anthropologist (like Anne). For crap's sake, that was just ridiculously stupid. Had they been less educated Earthlings, yes, I would have viewed it as an honest mistake. Those are my rants for this book. I did love the two alien races, and the concept of herbivore/carnivore and prey/predator was brilliant. I was in love with the gentle Runa species and thoroughly intrigued by the Jana'ata and their control of the planet.

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Yonas_Beyene
Jan 28, 2015

Yonas_Beyene thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and under

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Wandrer
Mar 21, 2013

Wandrer thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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dharvie
May 26, 2009

dharvie thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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davidharvie
Apr 18, 2008

davidharvie thinks this title is suitable for

lms Apr 10, 2008

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Notices

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dharvie
May 26, 2009

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

d
dharvie
May 26, 2009

Violence: This title contains Violence.

k
Kait
Jun 18, 2008

Violence: This title contains Violence.

d
davidharvie
Apr 18, 2008

Violence: This title contains Violence.

lms Apr 10, 2008

Violence: This title contains Violence.

Quotes

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c
CMLibrary_gjd_0
Jun 22, 2017

pg 60 "It became more apparent to him that he was truly called to walk this strange and difficult, This unnatural and unutterable path to God, which required not poetry or piety but simple endurance and patience."
pg 288 He spoke from his heart and Deuteronomy: " 'You have seen with your own eyes what the Lord your God has done.'"
"I've seen what human beings can do--"
"You've seen WHAT, Emilio conceded, " but not WHY.That's where God is Anne. In the Why of It--in the meaning."

k
KWomack211
May 23, 2014

Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.

k
KWomack211
May 23, 2014

"The poor you will always have with you," Jesus said. A warning, Emilio wondered, or an indictment?

k
KWomack211
May 23, 2014

As many as thirty or as few as ten years later, lying exhausted and still, eyes open in the dark long after the three suns of Rakhat had set, no longer bleeding, past the vomiting, enough beyond the shock to think again, it would occur to Emilio Sandoz to wonder if perhaps that day int he Sudan was really only part of the setup for a punchline a life-time in the making.
It was an odd thought, under the circumstances. He understood that, even at the time. But thinking it, he realized with appalling clarity that on his journey of discovery as a Jesuit, he had not merely been the first human being to set foot on Rhakhat, had not simply explored parts of its largest continent and learned two of its languages and loved some of its people. He had also discovered the outermost limit of faith and, in doing so had located the exact boundary of despair. It was at that moment that he learned, truly, to fear God.

k
KWomack211
May 23, 2014

For he could not feel God or approach God as a friend or to speak to God with the easy familiarity of the devout or praise God with poetry. And yet, as he had grown older, the path he had started down almost in ignorance had begun to seem clearer to him. It became more apparent to him that he was truly called to walk this strange and difficult, this unnatural and unutterable path to God, which required not poetry or piety but simple endurance and patience.
No one could know what this meant to him.

Summary

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lms Apr 10, 2008

A group of scientists, led by a Jesuit priest cross the universe to observe and initiate contact with an alien culture. They get more than they bargained for. A book about colonization, assumptions and beliefs.

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