The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Title:  The Sparrow
Author:  Mary Doria Russell
Release date:  September 9, 1996
Publisher:  Bellantine Books
Pages:  408
Genre:  Adult fiction
Source:  Personal copy

I’m always really bad at making lists of my favorites of anything.  If asked my top ten favorite movies, books, songs, foods, etc., the lists would almost always change from one day to the next.  I don’t know why, I’m finicky about these things I suppose.  But without fail, The Sparrow ends up on my favorite books of all time list every single time I try to think of such a list.  This book, to me, is flawless.  I love everything about it, and I’m almost afraid to talk about it because I get a little tongue-tied.  How does one explain a love this strong?  It’s like asking me why I love my husband… I can’t put words on it, I just do.

But I suppose, for all of you, I will attempt an explanation.  For anyone unfamiliar with the basic plot of the book, here it is in a few sentences.  In the year 2019, scientists discover life on another planet, in another galaxy, in the form of radio transmissions from this planet, which is called Rakhat.  As the government tries to determine a course of action, the Jesuits quietly assemble a team to go to Rakhat on a semi-secret mission.  The party includes four Jesuit priests, a 65-year-old scientist and his doctor wife, a former prostitute-turned- scientist/technician, and a musician (the aliens are singers; after all, they discovered them via radio transmission).  The party makes it to Rakhat successfully, yet interspersed with learning about their mission we also learn that only one person returned – Emilio Sandoz, the brainchild of the operation and one of the priests.  The book goes back and forth between the present day, after Emilio has returned, and the past, from the beginning of the discovery to their time on the planet.

Let’s clear one thing up first, shall we?  If you do not like science fiction, do not, I repeat, DO NOT let that stop you from reading The Sparrow.  This novel is so much more than a story of traveling to another planet.  There are so many amazing things about this book, and honestly, the plot is sort of the backdrop for everything fantastic about it.  The characters are wonderfully drawn, so very realistic and they stuck with me long after I read this book the first time.  Their personalities and their conversations just felt so very real to me – Russell definitely has a talent for creating authentic people, people that you want to get to know and be friends with and read about forever.  And this plays a huge role in the emotional impact of the novel – after all, we find out in the first chapter that only one of these amazing characters came home from Rakhat.

Another thing I want to clear up is that although the book centers around a bunch of Jesuit priests, this is not a religious novel by any means.  I suppose you could take it to be religious, if you look at it a certain way, but I guess what I mean is that it’s absolutely not preachy at ALL.  The book asks a ton of big questions but doesn’t provide any answers… it is up to the reader to come up with his/her own answers.  So many passages in the book hit home for me, I couldn’t even begin to start quoting them for you.  But now that I’ve read it twice, I can say that I picked up on even more poignant scenes than the first time I read it.

I know that I don’t have the power to convince everyone to read The Sparrow, but if there was only one book I could recommend for someone, this would be it.  I would recommend reading this novel to everyone.  Literally everyone.  I think every single person can get something out of this book and it is absolutely, positively worth your time to find out why in the world I’m so in love with this book.  Seriously, if you haven’t yet read The Sparrow, I’m begging you – READ IT! 🙂

20 thoughts on “The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell”

  1. This is a really good book, isn’t it, Heather? I read it many years ago and still think about it. I second your motion to have everyone read it!

  2. I have such a hard time talking about this book because I love it so much, so I’m very impressed by how you’ve done it here. It’s not truly science fiction, it’s not really about religion—I mean, she asks BIG QUESTIONS but it’s not preach—and it’s just awesome beyond words. Hope we can continue making converts!

  3. I think you’ve done a great job selling the book, but you don’t have to sell me! Thanks for joining our Read-along, Heather. When I first read The Sparrow five years ago, I didn’t know anyone else who had ever read it. I’ve been so happy to find other people who have been affected by this amazing novel in the same way that I am, and I got even more out of it on this re-read.

  4. I didn’t get on with A Thread of Grace when I tried to read it last year, and I’ve not tried any of Russell’s other books since then. You make this sound so good, though, I’ll have to find The Sparrow (I think I own it!) and give it a try. 🙂

  5. Sorry I’m late with this, but thank you so much for joining the readalong! Like Florinda, I didn’t know of anyone else who had read this when I read it for the first time so it was wonderful to discuss it with so many people.

    Also, to Jenny’s comment above – although I did enjoy A THREAD OF GRACE, it really cannot compare to THE SPARROW. Please don’t let your previous experience keep you from reading this fabulous book.

  6. I LOVE this book and always recommend it for the same reasons you listed. I think it has something for everyone. I went to see Mary at a book signing and she said this was her favorite book, but the sequel was her husband’s fave. I prefer this one and really need to make time for a re-read.

  7. Terrific book ! I read it years ago and loved it. I’ve recommended it to countless other over the years and I’m very happy to see it on your blog.
    Nice blog you have ! I must drop by more often.

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