The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was my book club’s pick for December.
About the Book:
2060, Rome. Emilio Sandoz has returned from an interplanetary mission to Rakhat with mutilated hands and in a precarious mental state, the solitary survivor of his original team of eight. Back in the care of his mission sponsors, the Jesuits, he begins the long and arduous road to recovery. Around him, nasty rumors and outrageous accusations swirl while the world waits for the truth about what happened in Emilio’s own words.
Flash back to 2019, when it all began. Emilio is a young and charismatic Jesuit priest, his group of friends gloriously witty and alive. In alternating chapters, The Sparrow moves effortlessly back and forth in time to fill in the details of this unprecedented and tragic mission and the people who undertook it.
When I proposed The Sparrow for my book group’s December read, none of us knew what to expect. The two keywords we found it listed with were “Jesuits” and “life on other planets” — what to make of that?? I’d heard from many people, though, that The Sparrow was one of their favorite books, and I looked forward to reading it with a group.
The Sparrow is one of those deceptively simple books. On the surface, it’s an absorbing story about a group of friends and scientists who travel to a new planet, and that’s mainly where I focused. But beneath that are layers, the most substantial of which examines faith. The way Russell handles this particular theme is impressive in that she fully explores the interior journeys and struggles of several characters in a sensitive, enlightening, and interesting way. It dovetails surprisingly well with the more science fiction side of the novel to create a cohesive and rich story.
I think my favorite aspect of The Sparrow was its characters. The core group is wonderful. They sparkle, they come alive, they are so very real. They’re people you want to invite to your next dinner party, who you wish were in your own social circle. You learn from them, you laugh with them, you share their excitement and their fear. I think I loved Anne and George Edwards and their marriage the best, but the novel would not have been the same had any of Russell’s creations been missing.
There are some truly beautiful passages in The Sparrow. Stunningly beautiful, in my opinion. I won’t describe them for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say Russell succeeds in capturing in words scenes and feelings of such rapture and revelation that the reader cannot help but experience them alongside the characters.
I know Russell wrote a sequel, Children of God, before moving away from science fiction, and I’m rather curious to read it. If you’ve read it, would you say it’s a book worth looking into?