The Sparrow

( 157 )

Overview

"A NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT . . . Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense."
--USA Today

"AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED . . . If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley ...

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Overview

"A NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT . . . Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense."
--USA Today

"AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED . . . If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley combination of agnostics, true believers, and misfits becomes the first to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat with both enlightening and disastrous results. . . . Vivid and engaging . . . An incredible novel."
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"POWERFUL . . . Father Emilio Sandoz [is] the only survivor of a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, 'a soul . . . looking for God.' We first meet him in Italy . . . sullen and bitter. . . . But he was not always this way, as we learn through flashbacks that tell the story of the ill-fated trip. . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence."
--San Francisco Chronicle

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

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This is a first novel. There is no way on earth that I would have pegged it as a first novel; even those things about it that I consider flawed are flawed with that confident sense of assurance that speaks of deliberate choice, not floundering. Ostensibly about the first contact with the aliens who live on the planet of Rakhat, this is a book about faith, hope, and charity, a discourse of sorts about the nature of religious belief and the desire for it. If this makes it sound dry, it's not; Russell never lectures. What she has to say about the magic -- dark and light -- of faith and belief she says through characters that are so well drawn you almost can't help but love them, suffer for them, suffer with them and hope. This is an astonishing book, at once literate and accessible, and I don't think I can recommend it highly enough. I missed it in hardcover; I'm glad I didn't miss it in its first paperback incarnation.
—Michelle West
From the Publisher
Excerpts from reviews of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow

"It is science fiction brought back to the project with which it began in the hands of a writer like Jules Verne: the necessity of wonder, the hope for moral rectitude, and the possibility of belief."

--America

"Russell's debut novel...focuses on her characters, and it is here that the work truly shines. An entertaining infusion of humor keeps the book from becoming too dark, although some of the characters are so clever that they sometimes seem contrived. Readers who dislike an emphasis on moral dilemmas or spiritual quests may be turned off, but those who enjoy science fiction because it can create these things are in for a real treat."

--Science Fiction Weekly

"The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence."

--San Francisco Chronicle

"The Sparrow is an incredible novel, for one reason. Though it is set in the early twenty-first century, it is not written like most science fiction. Russell's novel is driven by her characters, by their complex relationships and inner conflicts, not by aliens or technology."

--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future."

--San Antonio Express News

"Two narratives--the mission to the planet and its aftermath four decades later--interweave to create a suspenseful tale."

--The Seattle Times

"By alternating chapters that dramatize Sandoz's tough-love interrogation with flashbacks to the mission's genesis, flowering, and tragic collapse,
The Sparrow casts a strange, unsettling emotional spell, bouncing readers from scenes of black despair to ones of wild euphoria, from the bracing simplicity of pure adventure to the complicated tangles of nonhuman culture and politics.--The smooth storytelling and gorgeous characterization can't be faulted."

--Entertainment Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An enigma wrapped inside a mystery sets up expectations that prove difficult to fulfill in Russell's first novel, which is about first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The enigma is Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist whose messianic virtues hide his occasional doubt about his calling. The mystery is the climactic turn of events that has left him the sole survivor of a secret Jesuit expedition to the planet Rakhat and, upon his return, made him a disgrace to his faith. Suspense escalates as the narrative ping-pongs between the years 2016, when Sandoz begins assembling the team that first detects signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, and 2060, when a Vatican inquest is convened to coax an explanation from the physically mutilated and emotionally devastated priest. A vibrant cast of characters who come to life through their intense scientific and philosophical debates help distract attention from the space-opera elements necessary to get them off the Earth. Russell brings her training as a paleoanthropologist to bear on descriptions of the Runa and Jana'ata, the two races on Rakhat whose differences are misunderstood by the Earthlings, but the aliens never come across as more than variations of primitive earthly cultures. The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up. Much like the worlds it juxtaposes, this novel seems composed of two stories that fail to come together. BOMC, QPB and One Spirit Book Club selections. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449912553
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 81,945
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Doria Russell
Mary Doria Russell is a paleoanthropologist with specialties in bone biology and biomechanics who has done extensive field work in Australia and Croatia. After quitting academia and writing computer manuals, she began work on The Sparrow, her first novel. She lives with her husband and son in Cleveland, Ohio.

Biography

Mary Doria Russell was born in suburban Chicago in 1950. Her mother was a U.S. Navy nurse and her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant. She and her younger brother, Richard, consequently developed a dismaying vocabulary at an early age. Mary learned discretion at Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school and learned how to parse sentences at Glenbard East High; she moved on to study cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston, and biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.

After earning a doctorate, Russell taught human gross anatomy at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s but left the academic world to write fiction, which turned out to be a good career move. Her novels have struck a deep chord with readers for their respectful but unblinking consideration of fundamental religious questions. The Sparrow and Children of God remain steady sellers, translated into more than a dozen languages. Russell has received nine national and international literary awards and has been a finalist for a number of others. She and her family live in Cleveland, Ohio.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Russell:

"I honestly think getting up early gives you cancer. You should definitely sleep in as often as possible."

"Coffee is good for you. Don't believe anyone who says different. All research concluding that coffee is bad is seriously flawed in scientific design."

"Here's how you know when you're grown up: you decide if you get to have a pet. You don't have to ask anyone else's permission. I just got myself a 4-year-old miniature dachshund named Annie from Petfinder.com. She makes me laugh out loud first thing in the morning, and at least half a dozen times a day after that."

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    1. Hometown:
      Cleveland, Ohio
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 19, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Elmhurst, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Ballantine Reader's Circle: The Sparrow (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

ROME: DECEMBER 2059

On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5 Borgo Santo Spìrito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from the Vatican. The next day, ignoring shouted questions and howls of journalistic outrage as he read, a Jesuit spokesman issued a short statement to the frustrated and angry media mob that had gathered outside Number 5's massive front door.

"To the best of our knowledge, Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat. Once again, we extend our thanks to the U.N., to the Contact Consortium and to the Asteroid Mining Division of Ohbayashi Corporation for making the return of Father Sandoz possible. We have no additional information regarding the fate of the Contact Consortium's crew members; they are in our prayers. Father Sandoz is too ill to question at this time and his recovery is expected to take months. Until then, there can be no further comment on the Jesuit mission or on the Contact Consortium's allegations regarding Father Sandoz's conduct on Rakhat."

This was simply to buy time.

It was true, of course, that Sandoz was ill. The man's whole body was bruised by the blooms of spontaneous hemorrhages where tiny blood vessel walls had breached and spilled their contents under his skin. His gums had stopped bleeding, but it would be a long while before he could eat normally. Eventually, something would have to be done about his hands.

Now, however, the combined effects of scurvy, anemia and exhaustion kept him asleep twenty hours out of the day. When awake, he lay motionless, coiled like a fetus and almost as helpless.

The door to his small room was nearly always left open in those early weeks. One afternoon, thinking to prevent Father Sandoz from being disturbed while the hallway floor was polished, Brother Edward Behr closed it, despite warnings about this from the Salvator Mundi staff. Sandoz happened to wake up and found himself shut in. Brother Edward did not repeat the mistake.

Vincenzo Giuliani, the Father General of the Society of Jesus, went each morning to look in on the man. He had no idea if Sandoz was aware of being observed; it was a familiar feeling. When very young, when the Father General was just plain Vince Giuliani, he had been fascinated by Emilio Sandoz, who was a year ahead of Giuliani during the decade-long process of priestly formation. A strange boy, Sandoz. A puzzling man. Vincenzo Giuliani had made a statesman's career of understanding other men, but he had never understood this one.

Gazing at Emilio, sick now and almost mute, Giuliani knew that Sandoz was unlikely to give up his secrets any time soon. This did not distress him. Vincenzo Giuliani was a patient man. One had to be patient to thrive in Rome, where time is measured not in centuries but in millennia, where patience and the long view have always distinguished political life. The city gave its name to the power of patience--Romanità. Romanità excludes emotion, hurry, doubt. Romanità waits, sees the moment and moves ruthlessly when the time is right. Romanità rests on an absolute conviction of ultimate success and arises from a single principle, Cunctando regitur mundis: Waiting, one conquers all.

So, even after sixty years, Vincenzo Giuliani felt no sense of impatience with his inability to understand Emilio Sandoz, only a sense of how satisfying it would be when the wait paid off.

The Father General's private secretary contacted Father John Candotti on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, three weeks after Emilio's arrival at Number 5. "Sandoz is well enough to see you now," Johannes Voelker informed Candotti. "Be here by two."

Be here by two! John thought irritably, marching along toward Vatican City from the retreat house where he'd just been assigned a stuffy little room with a view of Roman walls--the stone only inches from his pointless window. Candotti had dealt with Voelker a couple of times since arriving and had taken a dislike to the Austrian from the start. In fact, John Candotti disliked everything about his present situation.

For one thing, he didn't understand why he'd been brought into this business. Neither a lawyer nor an academic, John Candotti was content to have come out on the less prestigious end of the Jesuit dictum, Publish or parish, and he was hip-deep in preparations for the grammar school Christmas program when his superior contacted him and told him to fly to Rome at the end of the week. "The Father General wishes you to assist Emilio Sandoz." That was the extent of his briefing. John had heard of Sandoz, of course. Everyone had heard of Sandoz. But John had no idea how he could be of any use to the man. When he asked for an explanation, he couldn't seem to pry a straight answer out of anyone. He had no practice at this kind of thing; subtlety and indirection were not indoor sports in Chicago.

And then there was Rome itself. At the impromptu farewell party, everyone was so excited for him. "Rome, Johnny!" All that history, those beautiful churches, the art. He'd been excited too, dumb shit. What did he know?

John Candotti was born to flat land, straight lines, square city blocks; nothing in Chicago had prepared him for the reality of Rome. The worst was when he could actually see the building he wanted to get to but found the street he was on curving away from it, leading him to yet another lovely piazza with yet another beautiful fountain, dumping him into another alley going nowhere. Another hour, trapped and frustrated by the hills, the curves, the rat's nest of streets smelling of cat piss and tomato sauce. He hated being lost, and he was always lost. He hated being late, and he was late all the time. The first five minutes of every conversation was John apologizing for being late and his Roman acquaintances assuring him it was no problem.

He hated it all the same, so he walked faster and faster, trying to get to the Jesuit Residence on time for a change, and collected an escort of small children, noisy with derision and obnoxious with delight at this bony, big-nosed, half-bald man with his flapping soutane and pumping arms.

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting." John Candotti had repeated the apology to each person along the way to Sandoz's room and finally to Sandoz himself as Brother Edward Behr ushered him in and left him alone with the man. "The crowd outside is still huge. Do they ever go away? I'm John Candotti. The Father General asked me to help you at the hearings. Happy to meet you." He held out his hand without thinking, withdrawing it awkwardly when he remembered.

Sandoz did not rise from his chair by the window and at first, he either wouldn't or couldn't look in Candotti's direction. John had seen archive images of him, naturally, but Sandoz was a lot smaller than he expected, much thinner; older but not as old as he should have been. What was the calculation? Seventeen years out, almost four years on Rakhat, seventeen years back, but then there were the relativity effects of traveling near light speed. Born a year before the Father General, who was in his late seventies, Sandoz was estimated by the physicists to be about forty-five, give or take a little. Hard years, by the look of him, but not very many of them.

The silence went on a long time. Trying not to stare at the man's hands, John debated whether he should just go. It's way too soon, he thought, Voelker must be crazy. Then, finally, he heard Sandoz ask, "English?"

"American, Father. Brother Edward is English but I'm American."

"No," Sandoz said after a while. "La lengua. English."

Startled, John realized that he'd misunderstood. "Yes. I speak a little Spanish, if you'd prefer that."

"It was Italian, creo. Antes--before, I mean. In the hospital. Sipaj--si yo..." He stopped, close to tears, but got a hold of himself and spoke deliberately. "It would help ... if I could hear ... just one language for a while. English is okay."

"Sure. No problem. We'll stick to English," John said, shaken. Nobody had told him Sandoz was this far gone. "I'll make this a short visit, Father. I just wanted to introduce myself and see how you're doing. There's no rush about preparing for the hearings. I'm sure they can be postponed until you're well enough to..."

"To do what?" Sandoz asked, looking directly at Candotti for the first time. A deeply lined face, Indian ancestry plain in the high-bridged nose, the wide cheekbones, the stoicism. John Candotti could not imagine this man laughing.

To defend yourself, John was going to say, but it seemed mean. "To explain what happened."

The silence inside the Residence was noticeable, especially by the window, where the endless carnival noise of the city could be heard. A woman was scolding a child in Greek. Tourists and reporters milled around, shouting over the constant roar of the usual Vatican crowds and the taxi traffic. Repairs went on incessantly to keep the Eternal City from falling to pieces, the construction workers yelling, machinery grinding.

"I have nothing to say." Sandoz turned away again. "I shall withdraw from the Society."

"Father Sandoz--Father, you can't expect the Society to let you walk away without understanding what happened out there. You may not want to face a hearing but whatever happens in here is nothing compared to what they'll put you through outside, the moment you walk out the door," John told him. "If we understood, we could help you. Make it easier for you, maybe?" There was no reply, only a slight hardening of the face profiled at the window. "Okay, look. I'll come back in a few days. When you're feeling better, right? Is there anything I can bring you? Someone I could contact for you?"

"No." There was no force behind the voice. "Thank you."

John suppressed a sigh and turned toward the door. His eyes swept past a sketch, lying on top of the small plain bureau. On something like paper, drawn in something like ink. A group of VaRakhati. Faces of great dignity and considerable charm. Extraordinary eyes, frilled with lashes to guard against the brilliant sunlight. Funny how you could tell that these were unusually handsome individuals, even when unfamiliar with their standards of beauty. John Candotti lifted the drawing to look at it more closely. Sandoz stood and took two swift steps toward him.

Sandoz was probably half his size and sicker than hell but John Candotti, veteran of Chicago streets, was startled into retreating. Feeling the wall against his back, he covered his embarrassment with a smile and put the drawing back on the bureau. "They're a handsome race, aren't they," he offered, trying to defuse whatever emotion was working on the man in front of him. "The ... folks in the picture--friends of yours, I guess?"

Sandoz backed away and looked at John for a few moments, as though calculating the other man's response. The daylight behind his hair lit it up, and the contrast hid his expression. If the room had been brighter or if John Candotti had known him better, he might have recognized a freakish solemnity that preceded any statement Sandoz expected to induce hilarity, or outrage. Sandoz hesitated and then found the precise word he wanted.

"Colleagues," he said at last.

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Foreword

1. How do faith, love, and the role of God in the world drive the plot of this story? One reviewer characterized this book as “a parable about faith–the search for God, in others as well as Out There.” Do you agree? If so, why?

2. This story takes place from the years 2019 to 2060. The United States is no longer the predominant world power, having lost two trade wars with Japan, which is now supreme in both space and on Earth. Poverty is rampant. Indentured servitude is once more a common practice, and “future brokers” mine ghettos for promising children to educate in return for a large chunk of their lifetime income. What kinds of changes do you think will occur during the twenty-first century–with governments, technology, society, and so on? Do you think America will lose its predominant status in the world?

3. Do you think it likely that we will make contact with extraterrestrials at some time in the future? What will the implications of such an event be? We’ve always viewed Earth, and human beings, as the center of the universe. Will that still be the case if we discover alien life forms? How will such a discovery change theology? Does God love us best? Will such a discovery confirm the existence of God or cause us to question his existence at all?

4. If, sometime within the next century, we hear radio signals from a solar system less than a dozen light years away from our own, do you think humankind would mount an expedition to visit that place? Who do you think might lead such an expedition? If you had to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whomwould you choose? Is the trip to Rakhat a scientific mission or a religious one?

5. The Sparrow tells a story by interweaving two time periods–after the mission to Rakhat and before. Do you think this makes the story more interesting and easier to follow or more difficult to follow? How does this story differ from other stories you have read?

6. Why do you think Sandoz resists telling the story of what happened on Rakhat?

7. A basic premise of this story is an evaluation of the harm that results from the explorer’s inability to assess a culture from the threshold of exploration. Do you see any parallels between the voyage of the eight explorers on the Rakhat mission and the voyages of other explorers from past history–Columbus, Magellan, Cortez, and others–who inaccurately assessed the cultures they discovered?

8. Despite currently popular revisionism, many historians view the early discoverers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries not as imperialists or colonists but as intellectual idealists burning to know what God’s plan had hidden from them. Do you agree? Does this story make you reconsider the motives of those early explorers?

9. One of the mainstays of the Star Trek universe is the “prime directive” which mandates the avoidance of interference in alien cultures at all costs. Would the “prime directive” have changed the outcome of events on Rakhat?

10. In an interview, the author said, “I wanted readers to look philosophically at the idea that you can be seduced by the notion that God is leading you and that your actions have his approval.” What do you think she means by that? In what way was Emilio Sandoz seduced by this notion

11. How is Emilio Sandoz’s faith tested on Rakhat? One reviewer suggests that in his utter humiliation and in the annihilation of his spirit, Sandoz is reborn in faith. Do you agree? Consider Sandoz’s dilemma on page 394. Did God lead the explorers to Rakhat–step by step–or was Sandoz responsible for what happened? If God was responsible for bringing the explorers to Rakhat, does that mean that God is vicious?

12. The discoverers of Rakhat seem to be connected by circumstances too odd to be explained by anything but a manifestation of God’s will. Do you think it was God’s will that led to the discovery of and mission to Rakhat, as Sandoz initially believes? If that’s the case, how could God let the terrible aftermath happen?

13. One reviewer wrote, “It is neither celibacy, faith, exotic goods, nor (as Sandoz bitterly asserts) the introduction of one of humanity’s oldest inventions that leads to the crisis between humans and aliens. The humans get into trouble because they fail to understand how Rakhat society controls reproduction. In short, they fail because they fail to put themselves into the aliens’ shoes.” Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

3. One reviewer wrote, "It is neither celibacy, faith, exotics goods, nor (as Sandoz bitterly asserts) the introduction of one of humanity's oldest inventions that leads to the crisis between humans and aliens. The humans get into trouble because they fail to understand how Rakhat society controls reproduction. In short, they fail because they fail to put themselves into the aliens' shoes." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

14. Is confession good for the soul? Do you think Emilio Sandoz will ultimately recover--both as a man and as a priest--from his ordeal?

15. Why do you think it's so important to Emilio to stand by his vow of celibacy when he so obviously loves Sofia Mendez?

16. The Jesuits saw so many of their fellows martyred all over the world throughout history. Why aren't they more sympathetic in dealing with Sandoz--a man victimized by his faith?

17. What is this story about? Is it a story about coming face-to-face with a sentient race that is so alien as to be incomprehensible, or about putting up a mirror to our own inner selves?

14. Is confession good for the soul? Do you think Emilio Sandoz will ultimately recover–both as a man and as a priest–from his ordeal?

15. Why do you think it’s so important to Emilio to stand by his vow of celibacy when he so obviously loves Sofia Mendez?

16. The Jesuits saw so many of their fellows martyred all over the world throughout history. Why aren’t they more sympathetic in dealing with Sandoz–a man victimized by his faith?

17. What is this story about? Is it a story about coming face-to-face with a sentient race that is so alien as to be incomprehensible, or about putting up a mirror to our own inner selves?

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Reading Group Guide

1. How do faith, love, and the role of God in the world drive the plot of this story? One reviewer characterized this book as “a parable about faith–the search for God, in others as well as Out There.” Do you agree? If so, why?

2. This story takes place from the years 2019 to 2060. The United States is no longer the predominant world power, having lost two trade wars with Japan, which is now supreme in both space and on Earth. Poverty is rampant. Indentured servitude is once more a common practice, and “future brokers” mine ghettos for promising children to educate in return for a large chunk of their lifetime income. What kinds of changes do you think will occur during the twenty-first century–with governments, technology, society, and so on? Do you think America will lose its predominant status in the world?

3. Do you think it likely that we will make contact with extraterrestrials at some time in the future? What will the implications of such an event be? We’ve always viewed Earth, and human beings, as the center of the universe. Will that still be the case if we discover alien life forms? How will such a discovery change theology? Does God love us best? Will such a discovery confirm the existence of God or cause us to question his existence at all?

4. If, sometime within the next century, we hear radio signals from a solar system less than a dozen light years away from our own, do you think humankind would mount an expedition to visit that place? Who do you think might lead such an expedition? If you had to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? Is the trip to Rakhat a scientific mission or a religious one?

5. The Sparrow tells a story by interweaving two time periods–after the mission to Rakhat and before. Do you think this makes the story more interesting and easier to follow or more difficult to follow? How does this story differ from other stories you have read?

6. Why do you think Sandoz resists telling the story of what happened on Rakhat?

7. A basic premise of this story is an evaluation of the harm that results from the explorer’s inability to assess a culture from the threshold of exploration. Do you see any parallels between the voyage of the eight explorers on the Rakhat mission and the voyages of other explorers from past history–Columbus, Magellan, Cortez, and others–who inaccurately assessed the cultures they discovered?

8. Despite currently popular revisionism, many historians view the early discoverers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries not as imperialists or colonists but as intellectual idealists burning to know what God’s plan had hidden from them. Do you agree? Does this story make you reconsider the motives of those early explorers?

9. One of the mainstays of the Star Trek universe is the “prime directive” which mandates the avoidance of interference in alien cultures at all costs. Would the “prime directive” have changed the outcome of events on Rakhat?

10. In an interview, the author said, “I wanted readers to look philosophically at the idea that you can be seduced by the notion that God is leading you and that your actions have his approval.” What do you think she means by that? In what way was Emilio Sandoz seduced by this notion

11. How is Emilio Sandoz’s faith tested on Rakhat? One reviewer suggests that in his utter humiliation and in the annihilation of his spirit, Sandoz is reborn in faith. Do you agree? Consider Sandoz’s dilemma on page 394. Did God lead the explorers to Rakhat–step by step–or was Sandoz responsible for what happened? If God was responsible for bringing the explorers to Rakhat, does that mean that God is vicious?

12. The discoverers of Rakhat seem to be connected by circumstances too odd to be explained by anything but a manifestation of God’s will. Do you think it was God’s will that led to the discovery of and mission to Rakhat, as Sandoz initially believes? If that’s the case, how could God let the terrible aftermath happen?

13. One reviewer wrote, “It is neither celibacy, faith, exotic goods, nor (as Sandoz bitterly asserts) the introduction of one of humanity’s oldest inventions that leads to the crisis between humans and aliens. The humans get into trouble because they fail to understand how Rakhat society controls reproduction. In short, they fail because they fail to put themselves into the aliens’ shoes.” Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

3. One reviewer wrote, "It is neither celibacy, faith, exotics goods, nor (as Sandoz bitterly asserts) the introduction of one of humanity's oldest inventions that leads to the crisis between humans and aliens. The humans get into trouble because they fail to understand how Rakhat society controls reproduction. In short, they fail because they fail to put themselves into the aliens' shoes." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

14. Is confession good for the soul? Do you think Emilio Sandoz will ultimately recover--both as a man and as a priest--from his ordeal?

15. Why do you think it's so important to Emilio to stand by his vow of celibacy when he so obviously loves Sofia Mendez?

16. The Jesuits saw so many of their fellows martyred all over the world throughout history. Why aren't they more sympathetic in dealing with Sandoz--a man victimized by his faith?

17. What is this story about? Is it a story about coming face-to-face with a sentient race that is so alien as to be incomprehensible, or about putting up a mirror to our own inner selves?

14. Is confession good for the soul? Do you think Emilio Sandoz will ultimately recover–both as a man and as a priest–from his ordeal?

15. Why do you think it’s so important to Emilio to stand by his vow of celibacy when he so obviously loves Sofia Mendez?

16. The Jesuits saw so many of their fellows martyred all over the world throughout history. Why aren’t they more sympathetic in dealing with Sandoz–a man victimized by his faith?

17. What is this story about? Is it a story about coming face-to-face with a sentient race that is so alien as to be incomprehensible, or about putting up a mirror to our own inner selves?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 158 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 18, 2009

    A Diamond in the Rough

    This book, one of hundreds that I own, is by far the most grubby, beat up, and torn on my shelves! Russell has crafted a truly compelling and moral tale of love, faith, and humanity. And even with all of the deep material contained within its pages, The Sparrow is also a fantastic thriller; one to keep a reader gripping its covers too tightly while reading on a rainy day. The characters are superb; very relatable and real. The situations, though some are outside of our current reality, also seem realistic, and I found myself wondering how I myself would deal. A emotionally stunning read, one I recommend highly.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2004

    Wonderful!

    I just finished reading this book and it was one of the most engaging, interesting, and moving books I have come across. I have read hundreds of sci/fi fantasy books as well as a wide variety of historical fiction. This is NOT just for the sci/fi fan. It is very charater driven and truly about the human condition. What is most interesting to me in about the above literary genres is world building and the description of other cultures and how they are different from us. I am also an atheist who has a very dim view of the ethnocentrism of missionary work as well as a mistrust of organized religion in general. But there was something about how Mary Russell wove this tremendous story that transcended a religious view and made it a story about people in a very basic way. Even Emilio who is so enamored with God and this quest does not descend into sterotype. The mistakes he makes seem understandable and forgiveable. I too, was thinking 'prime directive' when they landed on Rakhat and because that idea is so prevalent in our culture now I found myself to be surprised that people would act differently. But these are not people on the Starship Enterprise. They are 'real' people acting like pretty much every group that made inroads into a new culture on earth--they could not wait to share ideas and things that they personally value with someone who does not already have the 'benefit' of it. Ironically as humans we seem surprised time after time when our contact with new cultures ends in tragedy. Perhaps these characters were a bit innocent of possible repercussions but when you are reading the book their actions are so amazingly believable and logical that you don't even question the things they do. And that is because you really have become to know them. I was surprised to read a few reviews that found the characters one dimensional. They are so real you feel you know them and each loss was a heartbreak. You know throughout the book that you are going to loose them all save Emilio and as I neared the end and most all were still living I questioned how it would all happen--would it just be an afterthought? The ending was so wrenching but so amazing that I was astonished by the author's courage. It almost felt like she HAD to do it that way because she could not bear to loose them either and had to do it quickly. I am still reeling. I would recommend this book to everyone.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    READ THIS BOOK

    THE SPARROW is incredible, as is the sequel. The character development was better than in anything else I've read. The writing style was unique and delicious, and Russell's way of alternating between two plot lines, two times, made it painfully suspenseful. This book is clever, touching, thought-provoking, at times deeply funny, and at times heart-wrenching, just heart-wrenching. It will challenge any reader's beliefs, and make him/her think long and hard. Unforgettable plot, unforgettable characters. Best sci-fi ever written. Unforgettable.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is one of my favorite books of all time, as rich and fulfilling on the 10th read as on the first. Wonderfully- drawn characters, a fascinating topic: I feel guilty even attempting to describe this as science fiction when it is clearly so much deeper, so much more. This is a book about the very nature of belief, a career-making accomplishment for the author, and great good fortune for any of us likely to discover it. Read it. Do not miss the opportunity.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2005

    Um, I don't think so.

    I'm sorry...but am I supposed to engage in a theological argument after a priest is raped and sodomized by aliens in Alpha Centauri? There was absolutely no need to torture/maim/rape the main character in order to make readers think about God, which was supposed to be the author's main idea. There are other ways, less disturbing ways, less outrageous ways to write a science fiction story. Also, I can't believe the book's editor: Over half the Spanish is wrong! I'm a native Spanish speaker and to see Spanish that was grammatically incorrect was very irritating (the author confuses the verbs 'ser' and 'estar'...an embarrassing beginner's error). Third of all, let's all travel on an asteroid (what?) to a nearby planet. Yes, that seems like a very good idea. There is no science basis to this idea to qualify this book under science fiction. More like science nonsense. Can't we at least get a space shuttle, spaceship, something that's more science fiction? Finally, a lot is said about the author's religious studies in the last few pages. Yet, the book doesn't distill any sensitivity and profundity that you would associate with such an author's background. On the contrary, we get a furry alien poet (with a tail!) raping a Jesuit priest...later this alien poet will write songs about the excitement of raping the priest with his fellow alien poets and these songs will reach Earth through radio waves! I'm sorry, but no. NO.

    3 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    The Sparrow stirs Heart, Mind, and Soul

    Four years after reading this book it remains one of my all-time favorites. I loved spending time with the characters and the plot moves on big ideas. Even though the angst seemed sometimes overwritten, I was moved to tears and profoundly touched. An extraordinary portrait is also drawn in the sequel. The author's intellectual grounding merits a large and loyal readership.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Degrades the human spirit!

    I read this book several years ago and because it degraded the human spirit I could not pass it along for anyone else to read. People who try to find something profound in this story may be misguided. It is such a horror that it belongs to the "horror" catagory not science fiction. Science fiction takes our humanness into consideration but when intelligent life is raised for consumption by another intelligent specie, and our Father Emilio Sandos is raped repeatedly by a male creature of <BR/>this intelligent specie, the story has nothing to do with religion either ours or theirs. The author may want to take cover in religion but no one will believe her. This story line still bothers me and I have always felt that I have been diminshed just by reading this book.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2003

    science fiction meets religion

    This book as proved to be inspirational and thought-provoking as much as it was disturbing. Russell truly brings her characters to life in a fascinating and dimensional manner making them all too human and sympathetic. The main character can either be Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit Priest and talented Liguist, or God himself. Sandoz goes from reluctant priest to Saint to mutilated skeptic. If anyone has the right to question God, it's Emilio Sandoz. The story is fast-paced and fascinating. Russell's story-writing ability is precise and musical. Nothing feels remotely deliberate or contrived. There are a few jumps in time that could be explained but does not take away from the story in any way. Highly recommended and has quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    The Sparrow and Children of God depict the first steps of ET contact as accurately flawed.

    I found this book to be a wonderful story of the first steps of extraterrestrial contact by humans in the near future. The characters are flawed (as opposed to the story), and demonstrate that although we may have our sophisticated toys, we often still miss the big picture. Emilio Sandoz and his colleagues are hopelessly human, as they repeat the same well-intentioned mistakes that have been repeatedly made by missionaries for centuries on this planet. But the book is really about accepting responsibility for one's own faith and spirituality, (hence the title). The sequel, Children of God, ties the package up neatly, showing that everything happens for a purpose, and when one sees what suffering has wrought, the path to forgiveness is easier to tread.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2000

    Extraordinary+++++

    I bought this book to read on the plane and was immediately blown away by it. I fell in love with the characters, with their intelligence and humanity. As an agnostic, I was surprised to find myself so deeply involved and touched with matters of faith. Specifically I terribly enjoyed the detail given to anthropological analysis. I read at least 5 books a week and this one went immediately on to my top 100 list. Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the sequel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    I read this book several years ago, when my sister gave it to me

    I read this book several years ago, when my sister gave it to me, saying it truly had changed her way of thinking. She also said, &quot;Don't discount it, just because it's science fiction.&quot; I curled my lip (I'm not a sci-fi fan), but took the book anyway because I realized Russell was the author of the lovely and interesting historical fiction--&quot;A Thread of Grace&quot; --which I had just finished, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm SO GLAD I did. I judge books by whether or not they have changed me in some way... and this book, several years later, is still vividly with me. As I read over the other reviews and see the true disparity between reviewers, either loving or hating it, I am left with the thought that this is a MUST READ. I know several people-- generally Catholics-- who struggle with Russell's depiction of the truly flawed character of the Jesuit priest Emilio, but Russell is also addressing the inconsistencies, ambiguities , and sometimes questionable motives of the Church and the scientific community as a whole. What are the implications of colonization? How justified is mission work? Is our culture/ religion/ moral compass better than anyone else's? Who (or what) is good or evil? These questions can make people uncomfortable, but I'm all for anything that fosters real thought or discussion. This book pulls you in with a fascinating, well-crafted two-pronged plot; believable, likeable (if flawed) characters; and some deep, resonating ideas that will stay with you LONG after the last page is turned. My sister was right: this book changed me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2008

    Best read...until you read Children of God

    Really loved this book once it got start. I took me until the 2nd/3rd chapter to really get into and then I was hooked! You will enjoy all the characters once you get into it. And the main character gets more interesting the longer you read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2008

    great read

    I stated out thinking this was going to be ok at best but soon found myself not being able to put it down and ended up staying up until about 4am so I could finish it in the first night. This book takes you to a new world not unlike our own so to speak, you quickly become intrigued in the story and will not be able to put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2008

    Raping a Priest! I don't think so!

    Whatever this book has to offer, it has escaped me. The rape of a priest by a totally alien specie does not qualify for science fiction. Is there religious value here? Not so much.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2006

    Deep

    This is a great book. I am not much of a science fiction type person but this was not just about science there was a different meaning. It makes you think about God and your position with him. The character Emilio was very complex and a little hard to understand. If you get alittle lost with the flashbacks don't worry you'll get use to it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006

    Great Characters, Good Plot, So-So Ending

    This is something of a rarity among all the science fiction titles published every year: it's a highly intelligent work of literature. That said, plot still counts for something, and endings can make or break books. The fact that this remains a cult classic despite its uneven plot and weak denouement is due to the cast of vivid characters and the strength of ideas expressed, which (ironically) only serve to make the 'what the...?' ending even more disappointing. And those characters! One of the reviewers here said she would like to talk to the entire crew hell, I want to go with them. (Although I don't want their typical fate at the end.) The depth of religious and philosophical discussions and ruminations nearly makes up for the other flaws, and sets this book well above standard sci-fi fare. If the ending had been stronger, this would have been a five-star book. Another intelligent new book for your consideration: An Audience for Einstein. Set in the near future, Mark Wakely's book chronicles the 'rebirth' of a genius by questionable means, in a highly entertaining and surprisingly touching story that (like The Sparrow) will stay with you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2005

    after 50 pages it was awesome

    That is how this book is. It made you think in many ways you never thought possible. Yes it deals with religion and time travel but all in all this book combines both with a sense a truth you would never believe. It is a wonderful read. I never read science fiction books or anything close to it, but this came highly recommmended. I read and loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2005

    Great! It's makes you think...

    From the first pages to the last, The Sparrow had me hooked. Writing the story in two plot lines was probably Mary Doria Russel's smartest move. It creates suspense and excitement, as well as rounding out the plot. Some people may find certain events disturbing, but it's written with such an emphasis on faith and perseverance that it isn't as bad as it could've been. My only complaint is that the characters seemed too perfectly fitting into their niche, although they still pull at your emotions. I strongly recommend this book to people who aren't afraid to read a novel that is very thought-provoking! The story really sticks with you. And there's a bonus- it's science fiction that lovers of any genre can appreciate!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2005

    I give 5 stars to the seque

    The sparow is an intriguing book about faith and circumstance. The sequel is totally awesome!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2005

    No

    There are no perfect words to describe my reaction to this book but horror, disgust, disbelief are right up there at the top. I have NEVER felt so thoroughly cheated by an author before and she will not get a second shot at my wallet. If I'd had my way, I'd have given this a minus star...

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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