Set in the 21st century - between 20 and 60 years from now - The Sparrow is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and talented linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who - in response to a remarkable radio signal from the depths of space - leads a scientific mission to make first contact with an extraterrestrial culture. In the true tradition of Jesuit adventurers before him, Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, suffering - even death - but nothing can prepare them for the civilisation they encounter, or for the ...
Set in the 21st century - between 20 and 60 years from now - The Sparrow is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and talented linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who - in response to a remarkable radio signal from the depths of space - leads a scientific mission to make first contact with an extraterrestrial culture. In the true tradition of Jesuit adventurers before him, Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, suffering - even death - but nothing can prepare them for the civilisation they encounter, or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a devastating end. Once considered a living saint, Sandoz returns alone to Earth horrifically maimed, both physically and spiritually, the mission's sole survivor - only to be blamed for the mission's failure and accused of heinous crimes. Written in clean, effortless prose and peopled with memorable, superbly-realised characters who never lose their humanity or humour, The Sparrow is a powerful, haunting fiction - a tragic but ultimately triumphant novel about the nature of faith, of love and what it means to be 'human'.
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While I enjoyed reading "The Sparrow," Mary Doria Russell's novel of soul-shaking ideas, I felt ultimately let down by her inability to pull the whole thing together. The plot follows a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, newly discovered when the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico receives a radio signal containing beautiful extraterrestrial choral music. In an alternate story arch, we follow Father Emilio Sandoz after his return from Rakhat as the only survivor from the mission. Horribly mutilated and mentally scarred, he is put to an inquest by his Jesuit superiors regarding depraved actions he is alleged to have committed.
While the characterization is tight and the suspense builds nicely in both plot lines (When will he break and tell his superiors what made him question God? When will the catastrophe on Rakhat hit?), it was incredibly frustrating to see an author give herself everything she needed to make a very powerful statement, and then not use any of it. Emilio returns to Earth broken, deeply questioning everything he ever felt about his faith. But the specific event that causes this soul-shattering breakdown is almost banal compared to everything else going on in the story (and it is also something that happens with regularity here on our own planet). I simply do not understand how Russell managed to miss the mark so widely when it was her own material that she ignored in order to come to a lightweight conclusion. All she had to do was gather up her own narrative threads and she would have had something really powerful. It truly is a shame.
That said, those narrative threads got ME thinking, even if Russell didn't do anything with them herself, so I would still say it's worth a read. In fact, I want my friends to read it merely so we can debate it amongst ourselves.
Sep 11, 2008
Thoughtful and thought provoking
As I finished this book I found myself thinking "I'm glad I bought this - so I don't have to return it to the library." I wanted to reread it right away, instead I got a copy of the sequel: THE CHILDREN OF GOD. Put this on your TBR list now.
Jul 13, 2007
VERY DIFFERENT THAN YOUR AVERAGE READ
This is not the normal type of book that I would pick up. It is a blend of science fiction and personal religious conflict. It took me about 100 pages to actually get into it and when friends asked what the book I was reading was about I would answer them with "I'm not really sure." Hang with it. Once the intergalactic travel starts it really starts to get interesting. Initially it is a little confusing with the flashbacks and a large cast of characters but the story will suck you in. If you choose to read this book be sure to pick up a copy of the sequel "Children of God". It will add to the story from a different viewpoint and will answer many questions from the "The Sparrow."
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