Thoughts on “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell

by Erin on January 20, 2012

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was my book club’s pick for December.

About the Book:

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (cover)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.

My Thoughts:

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?

Those are my thoughts. Check out The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell on Goodreads or LibraryThing, or read a plethora of other bloggers’ reviews!

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11 comments
Lisa
Lisa

In all of the buzz about this one, some how I never actually read a review of it and had no idea what it was about. Hmm - time travel and interplanetary travel? That would definitely be a stretch out of my comfort zone. Gonna have to think about this one!

stacybuckeye
stacybuckeye

This is one of my favorite books ever (it's probably time for a reread). I read the sequel and liked it but didn't love it as much as this one. Russell is a Clevelander (like me) and when I heard her speak a few years ago she said that this was her favorite of the two, but Children of God was her husband's fave :)

Jenny
Jenny

I was surprised at how absorbing The Sparrow was -- for some reason I expected to hate it. But I do recall everyone telling me not to read Children of God because (they all said) it's way not as good as The Sparrow. I always remember being shattered by the thing the priest says at the end about possibly being in the wrong business.

Cori
Cori

The Sparrow is one of the best novels I've read in recent memory. I thought Children of God was really good, though not as good as the Sparrow. The two other books of hers that I've read (Dreamers of the Day and Doc) were both amazing as well. Russell is one of my favorite authors writing today!

Frances
Frances

I, too, was captivated by the words "Jesuits" and "life on other planets" - I had to read it! I agree, the characters are so real and believable in setting that is so out of the ordinary. There are few books in which the characters linger with you long after the book is finished but this is such a book. I also read the sequel, Children of God. I think you would like it, too. Frances

Ryan
Ryan

This book sounds right up my alley. I'll be on the lookout!

Emma @ Words And Peace
Emma @ Words And Peace

yes yes you HAVE to read the sequel, it gives evn more dimension to the story, and I have to say it's a bit more positive, and a bit less rough.

and as you are at it, you might as well then read ALL Russell's books. she is so good at characters in all of them. Emilio has never left me since I read the Sparrow!

A Thread of Grace is also amazing.

Bonnie Jacobs
Bonnie Jacobs

I have read both of these books and, unlike Anita, loved Children of God even more than The Sparrow. You should definitely read it, then let us know which of the two you like best.

zibilee
zibilee

Heather from Book Addiction told me that this is a must read book, and that I shouldn't wait long because it is amazing. It sounds like you would agree with those sentiments :) I need to grab this one off the shelf and get started with it. It seems like it would be a stellar read. Fantastic review today, my friend. I really appreciated it.

Amy
Amy

What a wonderful review! I haven't read either of these books, but The Sparrow sounds great. Thanks for posting!

Anita
Anita

Hi Erin,

I've read both The Sparrow and Children of God, but long enough ago that I don't remember many details. I do remember liking Children of God less than The Sparrow, though. I think it was because I connected less with the characters -- I really don't remember any of the characters from the second book at this point, while some of the characters from the first book are still pretty distinct in my mind.