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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Mary Doria Russell, Mary Doria Russell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,177282863 (4.2)1 / 736
Title:The Sparrow
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Other authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Ballantine Books (1997), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 408 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996)

  1. 130
    Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (mrstreme)
  2. 112
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (prezzey)
    prezzey: Both are good solid science fiction novels featuring Roman Catholic monks.
  3. 61
    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sturlington)
    sturlington: Also about first contact with an alien civilization that humans cannot understand.
  4. 62
    A Case of Conscience by James Blish (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both of these books deal with the combined issues of first contact with aliens and religion, through the involvement of priests. Both leave open questions, and both are well-written.
  5. 30
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  6. 20
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
  7. 21
    The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Rivercrest)
    Rivercrest: Dazzle of Day explores the trials of community living and community choices in the same context as Sparrow; space flight, alien landscapes and religous exploration. It also has the same deft use of language, visual descriptions and charecter development. And though I love Sparrow and go back to it time and again, I like how the author ends Dazzle of Day better. Enjoy.… (more)
  8. 10
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  9. 10
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (quartzite)
    quartzite: Both books deal with key groups of people preparing to meet alien cultures with a bit of theology and philosophy thrown in.
  10. 00
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  11. 00
    Daniel Stein, interpreter: a novel in documents by Ljudmila Ulitskaya (spiphany)
    spiphany: A central theme of both books is the examination of faith, both within and outside of organized religion
  12. 11
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Tanya-dogearedcopy)
    Tanya-dogearedcopy: First Contact sections of both novels are remarkably similar
  13. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  14. 00
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  15. 11
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  16. 11
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  17. 12
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both juxtapose religion and science fiction. Hyperion is also [IMHO] a significantly better book.
  18. 01
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.

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English (278)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All languages (282)
Showing 1-5 of 278 (next | show all)
Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest, has returned from humanity' first mission to contact aliens - the sole survivor. A broken man, both physically mutilated and psychologically tormented, he refuses to speak about his experiences. But rumor spread years before his return, and he has become a pariah. Did he not destroy the integrity of an alien culture, introducing forbidden concepts? Did he not betray all his moral standards, sinking into debauchery and inter-species prostitution? Did he?

Flashbacks show us the beginnings of the mission: the discovery of indescribably beautiful song-messages from Alpha Centauri, and how the Church was the first to acquire the financing to send a mission to the stars. We learn of Sandoz' early life - how he grew up a tough kid in the slums, but found a true calling as a priest and a brilliant linguist. We see the formation of the mission and its goals - and nothing indicates how Sandoz, seemingly a good, moral, and truly dedicated man, could have sunk to the depths that it is alleged that he did... slowly, the truth unravels, and horrific truths are revealed.

An extremely well-crafted and deservedly multi-award-winning book, with a lot of thought-provoking issues explored.

My only issue with the book is that it completely ignores (or expects that the reader knows) the history of the Jesuits. Russell obviously did a lot of research into the order and they are believably and lovingly portrayed: too lovingly. It would seem impossible to tell this story without reference to the actual, historical record of the Jesuits and "first contact" with the cultures of the Americas. (Where they certainly did interfere, and with frequently disastrous, if arguably well-intentioned, results.) But not one character seems to consider the issues of their current dilemma in that context, which seems unlikely, and the ethical questions inherent in "missionary work" are not directly considered. It is clear that Russell expects her readers to be able to infer such questions, but I still feel
overall that the book is too sympathetic to missionaries in general. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
A friend told me this was one of her favorite books, and if I read it, she would read one of my favorite books. I hope she liked my choice better than I liked hers. I had to read about 30% of the book before I felt any interest in it all. ( )
  beertraveler | Feb 5, 2016 |
“The Sparrow” tells the story of a catastrophic mission to the newly discovered planet Rakhat, 4.3 Light Years from Earth, orbiting Alpha Centauri. Unhindered by the bureaucracy of government, the Jesuits send an eight person team to investigate the planet and it's people. Only one returns, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz. This book is his story, and that of the seven others on the mission.

Despite initial success, the mission goes horribly wrong. When a United Nations-led team arrives several years later they find Sandoz with brutally mangled hands, working in a brothel, standing over the body of an alien child he has just murdered. Emilio returns to earth nearly a half century later, alone, emaciated and almost catatonic. Most of the story is told from his viewpoint, alternating between 2015-2019 and later recounting his time on Rakhat under interrogation by the general authorities of the Jesuit mission, after he returns to Earth (2059).

I was hooked from the opening page. I don't usually read science fiction, but this one felt more like a mystery to me. The author is not a science fiction writer and I felt the story was both character and plot driven. I found the aliens to be very interesting and, knowing from the beginning the condition Emilio returns to earth in, watched for signs of brutality. I enjoyed learning about their culture and how they were both different and similar to humans in many ways. I thought the author did a wonderful job of making them so vivid.

There are a few flaws that made no difference in my enjoyment of the book. Some of the novel is implausible. How could the Jesuits get a mission ready before the United Nations? When the team gets to Rakhat, they seem almost uninterested in making contact with any alien beings. Some readers may be offended by some of the sexual and religious concepts but I felt it was done well.

This book both fascinated and disturbed me. I'm still thinking about it and planning to read the sequel "Children of God" in order to finally understand what what happened to Emilio on Rakhat.

( )
  Olivermagnus | Jan 17, 2016 |
Angry at God and the world, sufferring from extreme survivor's guilt and an agony of the soul, Father Emilio Sandoza is the only surviving member of an interplanetary mission to a newly discovered world. When his friend Jimmy discovers radio transmissions, Sandoza marshalls the support of his order and in short order finds himself along with Jimmy and six others, half of them Jesuit priests, aboard a modified asteroid in search of alien life.

Put that way, this book sounds not only bizarre, but downright improbable. Not one author in a million could have pulled off this premise. And yet, Russell does so masterfully. Normally, even in the best of books,I can find something to criticize. That is not the case with The Sparrow. Every word was perfection. I loved getting to know these characters, their pains and their joys I felt deeply. I know this is not a book I will soon forget.

I have heard some say they were not happy with the ending and that they needed the sequel, Children of God, to put it to rights. I disagree. Like the rest of the book, I found the ending flawless. That said, I will definitely be reading the sequel very soon, along with the two remaining Russell books which I have not yet read. ( )
  Mootastic1 | Jan 15, 2016 |
Emilio Sandoz, is the only survivor of a jesuit led mission to a recently discovered planet, Rakhat. Sandoz returns in discgrace. The story alternates between Sandoz's return and how the mission began and the time on Rakhat. Though the story involves space exploration it is mostly about faith. I really liked the characters who went on the mission to Rakhat. My main problem with the book is the ending seemed very rushed and it leaves the reader hanging. It takes a very logn time to get to what went wrong with the mission but when the book does get there it's almost glossed over. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
diBondone,GiottoCover artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Maura E. Kirby
Mary L. Dewing

quarum sine auspicio hic
liber in lucem non esset
First words
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 Spirito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from the Vatican.
I don't understand, but I can learn if you will teach me.
"There are no beggars on Rakhat. There is no unemployment. There is no overcrowding. No starvation. No environmental degradation. There is no genetic disease. The elderly do not suffer decline. Those with terminal illness do not linger. They pay a terrible price for this system, but we too pay, Felipe, and the coin we use is the suffering of children. How many kids starved to death this afternoon, while we sat here? Just because their corpses aren't eaten doesn't make our species any more moral!"
"...Because if I was led by God to love God, step by step, as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, then the rest of it was God's will too, and that, gentlemen, is cause for bitterness. But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself and my companions and the whole business becomes farcical, doesn't it. The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances," he continued with academic exactitude, each word etched on the air with acid, "is that I have no one to despise but myself. If however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God."
"'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.'" "But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said.
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Book description
A novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience--the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life--begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449912558, Paperback)

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human." When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong... Words like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Combining elements of science fiction and spiritual philosophy, this novel is a tale of the devastating consequences of a scientific mission to make contact with an extraterrestrial culture.

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