"But the sparrow still falls."

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Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. (Matthew 10:29)

No one who knows me would mistake me for a particularly religious person, and perhaps that explains why I missed Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow the first time around. It was first published almost 10 years ago, and has been re-released in trade paperback to coincide with the publication of Russell's latest book. It was one of those books that I picked up at Borders to fill up a gift card, a serendipitous grab based on little more than the cover art.

I finished it a couple of weeks ago, and had been meaning to blog it ever since, because I found it to be one of the better books I've read in recent months. It's sort of science fiction, but only in the sense that it takes place in the near future and involves first contact with an alien culture. Believe me, though, when I say that this is actually a minor, backdrop kind of element. The first two chapters introduce us, in parallel fashion, to a Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz. One thread of the story connects us to Sandoz as he gathers around him a network of close friends who eventually form the core crew of a mission to another planet; the second finds Sandoz the physically and psychologically broken, sole survivor of that mission, surrounded by other Jesuits trying to figure out what went wrong. The two threads proceed in parallel, drawing closer and closer until the middle of the story is finally filled in by the end of the book.

Sandoz is of course the sparrow referenced in the title, and really, the sci-fi is a backdrop for fairly detailed characterization, conceptualization of first contact, and perhaps most importantly, speculation on the varied roles that religion plays in the lives of the characters. It's a contemplative sort of book, both in terms of pace and theme, and that worked for me really well. Not all of the other characters are drawn in as much detail, and there were times where the fact that they had been expended made them a little expendable--this wasn't too big of a flaw, although there comes a point where to be "noticed" in the narrative is not a good thing for most of them.

It's hard not to read the book in the shadow of Star Trek, of course, but there are some nice details that point out the narrative convenience of technology like universal translators (Sandoz is a linguistic savant), and their absence here. All in all, it was an excellent read. There's a sequel that I'll be picking up one of these days, once I actually have a spare couple of hours to rub together. In the meantime, if you're looking for a book to add to your bedside table, you could do much worse than The Sparrow.


my bedside table is stacked with required reading, of course, but i've seen these lovely russel books--pretty covers!--& been oft-tempted to pick them up & bring them home. i'll definitely add them to my "if i see them at the used bookstore & so won't feel guilty about not having time to read them for a while" pile!

Your description reminded me a gread deal of Sagan's "Contact." I loved the movie and found the book even more thoughtful and detailed. Is there a connection or only the coincidence of subject matter?

I may pick up this book since I'm just about ready to start a new novel, but I'm really writing to say thanks for the comment you left on my blog last week. Since with your help I'm now a regular blogger, that post has now disappeared (I do know how to find it, of course--I'm not that far behind!), so I thought I would leave my thanks here rather than there. Yeah. That's a lot of words to just say Thanks, Collin, for being my blog guru. It's working!

I loved this book! The sequel was also good, though not quite as good. And Dylan, The Sparrow is WAY better than Contact, a book I also liked, but that isn't quite as richly detailed or thought provoking. Collin, had I realized you hadn't yet read this book, I'd have recommended it to you. :)

Thanks for the tip, Beth. I haven't been able to find the sequel yet, but I haven't tried too hard, either, and now maybe I'll wait a bit until I have more leisure reading time...


And Donna, you're welcome! I'm really just passing it on--as I've written here before, two Jennies were largely responsible for getting me going here, and it's nice to be able to pass that on...


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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on February 13, 2005 1:20 AM.

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