The Sparrow

by Mary Doria Russell | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 1407057022 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingerishkigalwing of Salt Lake City, Utah USA on 6/5/2021
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
This book is in the wild! This Book is Currently in the Wild!
5 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingerishkigalwing from Salt Lake City, Utah USA on Saturday, June 5, 2021

I read this 12-15 years ago as a bookring, loved it so much I picked up a copy of my own. And then I found another at the thrift, And since then, I read the book once again and have bought and given away several copies.
Does having been raised Catholic have anything to do with how much I love this book? Having gone to parochial school? Having an Aunty who was a Sister of the Holy Cross? I might’ve thought so, or not for the fact that it has been so well received/reviewed generally.😂

Now that I’m putting together another science fiction only bookbox, and looking for as much variety in there as I can come up with, I’ve decided to take this copy off my permanent shelf and include it.

from Kislany's post:
( the bookring I first read)

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.

Kirkus Review

Brilliant first novel about the discovery of extraterrestrial life and the voyage of a party of Jesuit missionaries to Alpha Centauri.

Russell lays down two narratives: One begins in 2059, in the aftermath of the mission; the other in 2019, when a young astronomer intercepts a transmission of haunting songs from Alpha Centauri. In the latter, a linguist and Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz swiftly organizes a group of Jesuits and civilian specialists to turn an asteroid into a spaceship. The ship will reach the singing planet, called Rakhat, in four years of passenger time, even though 17 years will pass on Earth. In the narrative beginning in 2059, therefore, the mission's only survivor, Sandoz himself, is only a decade older. But he is a broken man physically and spiritually. The mission began well: Rakhat was beautiful and bountiful, and the men and women from Earth lived peacefully alongside a gentle and dreamy race, rather like the eloi of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, here called the runa. Then, inadvertently, the visitors improve the local diet, causing a surge in births among the Runa; suddenly, another, fiercer race appears to put things right. It seems that the Jana'ata raise the Runa like rabbits. The newborn are slain and eaten, as is the party from Earth, except for Sandoz, who is taken to the strange capitol city and sold into a brothel. There, he is raped repeatedly by the great poet who wrote the angelic songs that fetched the Jesuits in the first place. A startling portrait of an alien culture and of the nature of God as well, since, in his utter humiliation and in the annihilation of his spirit, Sandoz is reborn in faith.

Shades of Wells, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Arthur C. Clarke, with just a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs—and yet strikingly original, even so.

Amazon Editorial Review:


"A NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT . . . Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense."
--USA Today

"AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED . . . If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley combination of agnostics, true believers, and misfits becomes the first to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat with both enlightening and disastrous results. . . . Vivid and engaging . . . An incredible novel."
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"POWERFUL . . . Father Emilio Sandoz [is] the only survivor of a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, 'a soul . . . looking for God.' We first meet him in Italy . . . sullen and bitter. . . . But he was not always this way, as we learn through flashbacks that tell the story of the ill-fated trip. . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence."
--San Francisco

Journal Entry 2 by wingerishkigalwing at Salt Lake City, Utah USA on Saturday, June 5, 2021

Released 7 mos ago (6/5/2021 UTC) at Salt Lake City, Utah USA


Releasing into my Science Fiction Only Bookbox

Journal Entry 3 by wingjudygreeneyeswing at San Diego, California USA on Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Destined to be one of my favorite books of all time. I fell in love with every character, the situation, the misconceptions, it was a very special and unforgettable story. I've recommended it to others countless times and given away several copies. My family still talks about the characters as if we have known them. This is the ultimate man (and woman) encounters alien story. This book is on my desert island book list, because I could read it over and over.

"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. "

I've left this copy to continue its travels in the Science Fiction Only bookbox.

Journal Entry 4 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, September 13, 2021
Was pleased to see this in the Science Fiction bookbox, as it's such an unusual and excellent book. Even though it seems that most of the rest of the folks on the bookbox list have already read it, I'm leaving it in the box in hopes that it'll appeal to someone who hasn't - and if not, it can continue its travels down the line!

I first read The Sparrow as part of a book ring - see that book's journey here - and liked it very much. It's a very involving story, with a premise that was intriguing and a bit humorous: a motley group of friends and colleagues happens to be on the scene when the first verified evidence of life on another planet is received, and - in a "let's put on a show!" kind of way - they decide to see if they can pay that planet a visit. Oh, they do take several years to get things moving, and they get funding from the Jesuit order which helps. I loved the concept, and could easily imagine the shock and horror that the military and government agencies would express when they discovered that a handful of civilians and priests were going to be the first ambassadors to a new civilization...

The story is told in two time-streams: the past (from 2019 through the trip to Rakhat), and the present (from 2059 on), in which the sole survivor of the expedition, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz, has returned to Earth and is being debriefed by his superiors - or at least, they're trying to debrief him, but his fragile physical and emotional state prevents this. Since we discover within the first few pages that Sandoz has been brutally maimed, that none of the rest of his party survived, and that he was discovered by members of the follow-up mission under circumstances that have apparently been interpreted as - and broadcast to the world as - scandalous and vile in the extreme, it means that for the reader the majority of the book is "how did things get to that state?". It also means that every lovely little exchange between the group of friends has a tragic note: yes, they're laughing now, they're having a wonderful time now, they're falling in love now, but some appalling doom awaits them... Made reading the book very stressful, I can tell you.

And I did love the characters. What a wonderful group... bright, good-hearted, able to accept each other's limitations and biases with understanding - and yet with just enough flaws that they don't seem too good to be true. I wanted them to succeed, to find happiness, and I dreaded finding out just how each of them was going to fall.

The book as a whole was an excellent read, and could inspire all manner of fascinating discussion topics - from the role of religion in interspecies contact to the "prime directive" [in "Star Trek"-speak] and whether it's even possible to visit another planet without violating that directive in some way. But when I reached the end I felt a bit cheated... [Spoilers follow: select the blank area to see the text.] It seemed clear to me from the very first description of the circumstances in which Sandoz was found that he'd been grossly victimized and abused, and while the details weren't obvious until he finally recounted them himself, I found it hard to believe that so many of his fellow Jesuits seemed to have bought the initial interpretation - the incredibly unlikely scenario that he had chosen to become a prostitute and was wallowing in iniquity. Shouldn't his physical condition alone have tipped them off? Between his crippled hands (the description of what was done to his hands will linger in my nightmares forever; {shudder!}) and the signs of violence to his body - signs so severe that the physicians on Earth could still tell how savagely he'd been used, even after he'd had months and months to heal - it should have been apparent to anyone that he was the victim, yet many of his inquisitors and, apparently, the world press, had been given the story that he was a criminal and a fallen priest... I did appreciate that the author explained Sandoz' reluctance to speak; his pride and unwillingness to ask for help was mentioned on many occasions, in both time-streams, so it was clear that a man of his background and nature would find it very difficult to admit to having been raped. But even without his admissions, the other evidence should have left plenty of room for doubt; I just didn't believe that so many people would have demonized him like that.

That, and the fact that so many of the radio reports had apparently been suppressed, struck me as sour notes in an otherwise tight story. Oh, and one other thing: given that the team had been attracted to the planet because of the beauty of the songs, I found it very odd that they waited so long and so patiently to find the singers. It made sense to introduce themselves gradually, sure, but they seemed to settle in to a bucolic life too easily, and never even questioned why the locals hated music while the ones who had broadcast the songs obviously loved it. Even after they made contact with the other race on Rakhat, and were allowed to visit a city, they did not pursue the songs. If only they'd worked harder to translate the music and realized just what was being sung about, things might have gone very differently - although from the moment they arrived they were already triggering major change on the planet. [One of the most poignant moments came near the end, when Sandoz said that some of the more recent songs from Rakhat "are about me"...]

While I can't say that I found all these actions or omissions unbelievable - there are plenty of examples of people making odd decisions, ignoring evidence, and choosing to believe in scandal rather than wait for the facts - I did think that, as presented, with the characters as described, I thought it went a bit too far; basically, plotholes.
[End of spoilers.]

Despite those issues I found the book engrossing and utterly memorable.

[I've read the sequel, Children of God, and found that it added layers to the already-complex plot; recommended. Oh, and there's a TV Tropes page for the book, with some interesting comments - do beware of spoilers, though!]

Journal Entry 5 by BookLovinMama at -- Bookbox, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- USA on Saturday, November 20, 2021

Released 1 mo ago (11/21/2021 UTC) at -- Bookbox, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- USA


Emilio is a linguist and is moved around quite a bit during his first few years as a priest. When he is finally given his choice of assignments he returns to his birthplace in Puerto Rico convincing his friends George and Anne that their skills would be beneficial to his new congregation. It doesn't take much convincing and the three of them are off!

Anne re-establishes the local clinic. George volunteers as a docent at the Arecibo dish, where he meets Jimmy. The four of them become fast friends. Jimmy learns that his job is to be automated, makes a deal with his boss, and Sophia is brought into the group, continuing to round out the dynamics.

When Jimmy uncovers beautiful music from a nearby system, the lives of these friends, plus three additional priests, takes a new turn. They are suddenly planning their trip to Alpha Centuri.

This book was not overly "religious". However, it does show us how Emilio's origination in the priesthood is more of a feeling of safety and acceptance, to that of knowing God and finally feeling abandoned by God. This was Emilio's spiritual journey.

The characters were well developed and I often felt as if I was in Anne's home as she was entertaining the group. Once the team was on Rakhat, I did often get confused as to what exactly was happening. It wasn't always easy for me to follow.

There is a sequel to the book: Children of God. If I happen to come across it I will read it, but I found this book to be fine as a stand alone.

Journal Entry 6 by Chicvolley99 at Denver, Colorado USA on Saturday, November 27, 2021
Received in the Science Fiction

Journal Entry 7 by Chicvolley99 at Denver, Colorado USA on Saturday, November 27, 2021

Released 1 mo ago (11/27/2021 UTC) at Denver, Colorado USA


Released in the Science Fiction Box.

Please enjoy!

Journal Entry 8 by wingerishkigalwing at Salt Lake City, Utah USA on Wednesday, December 15, 2021
This wonderful book returned home, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading comments on it by other bookcrosser’s. Thank you for that!

As it has been so well read in our community, I will soon release it into a little free library.

Journal Entry 9 by wingerishkigalwing at My front porch in Salt Lake City, Utah USA on Saturday, January 1, 2022

Released 2 wks ago (1/1/2022 UTC) at My front porch in Salt Lake City, Utah USA


Cold and snowy (and absolutely gorgeous) and Salt Lake, so rather than brave traipsing from LFL to LFL, I decided to try a different kind of wild release. I offered eight books on BuyNothing, and within a day they’ve all found new homes.

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