The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is quite possibly my favorite book of all time, so I was thrilled to be a part of the read-a-long in March hosted by Heather, Rebecca, and Florinda. Here are my answers to the half-way point discussion questions.
1. For first time readers, how does your reading so far match up to what you expected from this book?
As I said earlier, this is not my first time reading the book, it’s actually my second, but I wanted to add just how much more I’ve been getting out of the experience of reading the book this time around than the first time I read it. The first time, I loved the book (obviously, or I wouldn’t have wanted to reread it!) but it took me awhile to get into the story and the first fifty pages or so were extremely confusing and frustrating for me. Now that I know the eventual outcome of the story, the beginning sections are SO much more interesting and full of rich details that I didn’t pick up on the first time around. Reading it again is just reminding me of what an absolute genius Russell is and how much I appreciate the amazingness that is The Sparrow.
2. This book is set in a not-so-distant future in which the balance of world power has shifted from the United States to Japan. Poverty, indentured servitude, ghettos, and “future brokers” are common. Based on this projected future, would you classify this novel as dystopian? Do you think this future is a real possibility based on where the world is today?
The first time I read the book, I completely missed the whole Japan thing. I’m seeing it more this time, but I definitely haven’t been hit over the face with it. I don’t think that the book is exactly a dystopian because the world these characters are residing in isn’t too far from our own in terms of our daily experiences. There hasn’t been some huge catastrophic event that changed everything, which is in my experience what usually provides the setting for dystopian novels. But I do think some of what is portrayed in the novel is possible at some point in our near future. The situation with Sofia seems not outside the realm of possibilities for our world, and it’s no secret that the poor countries of the world are just getting poorer, so the increased poverty and indentured servitude of The Sparrow isn’t far from life in some places now.
3. From the beginning of the book we know that Something Bad happened during the mission but it takes until almost the end of the book for the reader to get the whole story. Do you think the author built the suspense to the perfect pitch or do you feel that she drew it out too long?
I’m only about a third of the way through right now, but I remember thinking the first time I read the book that the suspense was perfect. Even now, I’m sad reading parts because I know A Bad Thing will happen to these characters that I’m falling in love with all over again. But every time I pick up the book, I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation, so I definitely think that the suspense is about as perfect as it can get.
4. If you’ve gotten to the end, was the final truth one you expected or were you taken by surprise?
I haven’t gotten to the end this time, but I remember when I read it the first time that I kinda had to read it a couple of times to let everything sink in. But I wasn’t totally surprised – it was kind of alluded to throughout the book and I had imagined a thousand different scenarios before getting to that final scene.
5. Many people, in times of crises, ask how God can let bad things happen to good people. If someone asked you this, what would be your response? How do you think the author is choosing to answer that question in this book?
I ask myself that question all the time, and I absolutely do not have an answer. Wouldn’t the world be a lot easier if we did have an answer? Having read the entire book several years ago and without good memory of all the details, I don’t know how she’s answering that in the book. Something about the greater good maybe? That our suffering has a purpose, that we suffer in order for someone else to not suffer, or for some other problem to be solved, or for a larger group of people to be bettered in some way? But I really can’t say.
I can’t wait to finish this amazing book! Look for my review towards the end of the month.