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The Sparrow: A Novel [Paperback]

Mary Doria Russell
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (362 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 8 1997 Ballantine Reader's Circle
"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 Chronicle

"SMOOTH STORYTELLING AND GORGEOUS CHARACTERIZATION . . . Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them."
--Entertainment Weekly

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From Amazon

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An enigma wrapped inside a mystery sets up expectations that prove difficult to fulfill in Russell's first novel, which is about first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The enigma is Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist whose messianic virtues hide his occasional doubt about his calling. The mystery is the climactic turn of events that has left him the sole survivor of a secret Jesuit expedition to the planet Rakhat and, upon his return, made him a disgrace to his faith. Suspense escalates as the narrative ping-pongs between the years 2016, when Sandoz begins assembling the team that first detects signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, and 2060, when a Vatican inquest is convened to coax an explanation from the physically mutilated and emotionally devastated priest. A vibrant cast of characters who come to life through their intense scientific and philosophical debates help distract attention from the space-opera elements necessary to get them off the Earth. Russell brings her training as a paleoanthropologist to bear on descriptions of the Runa and Jana'ata, the two races on Rakhat whose differences are misunderstood by the Earthlings, but the aliens never come across as more than variations of primitive earthly cultures. The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up. Much like the worlds it juxtaposes, this novel seems composed of two stories that fail to come together. BOMC, QPB and One Spirit Book Club selections.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
I really wanted to like this but I couldn't.

I think it would have fared better if it were written in a chronological time frame.

Also, Ms. Russell seems very preoccupied with sickness. There is a lot of vomiting in this book that serves no real purpose. I wanted to know what Sandoz was dreaming about that made him vomit but it was never explained. I also did not see a purpose for actually going to Rakhat. They want to meet singing aliens? And everyone but Sandoz was dead already when the book started so why should we care about them? Also, this book is dripping with 20th century pop culture which is cool for me (I was 14 when this book was written) but I don't think it stands the test of time for those younger than me who might pick it up. This is the first book I read by Russell, if her other books are written like this, I probably won't bother reading anymore. She should stop relying on foreshadowing, it is a tool to be used sparingly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What an amazing book! July 9 2012
What an absolutely amazing book! I was afraid to read this book for a LONG time. It came highly recommneded by a friend...twice he went into it, explaining how interesting it was. I borrowed, but was hesitant to read, knowing some of the content was intense and painful.

But I finally read it, and am so glad I did. Maybe this was the time for me to read it--the story was great, but for me it also allowed me to find words and emotion, to cry out some of the intense pain I had been feeling--the disillusionment with life and faith, the things we don't understand when God could have prevented...oh and I loved the Father General, how he reached out and cared--Canotti (sp?) of course too.
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Theology can become a distant logical exercise of dry doctrine and easy theoretical conclusions. When it comes down to the wet choices of real life most such theoretical Theology is found wanting as it can offer only limited answers. This is Theology of the other kind, the real one.

Mary Doria Russell has created a highly intelligent story: what would the story of a future saint be? Say, a Jesuit spearheading an exploratory mission to an alien civilization as a linguist of unique abilities; a former outcast that found his true calling as a man of the Cloth and God's face in all the hungry he fed and all the orphans he sheltered and all the lost he bough back from desperation. And then God asked for more. Much more. Is God real or a mere human construct? Can Faith survive anything?

This is one of those books that stays with you for ever. Read THE SPARROW first, CHILDREN OF THE GOD later in order to enjoy them both more.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The story is strong - it inspired a musical journey Sept. 11 2007
I found the book to be very strong, in fact all of the members of our band Metaphor read it and decided to write and record a concept CD or rock opera, based on the book! We got the author's permission, and voila, it's The Sparrow by Metaphor. A great complement to the book, you can hear samples at

So, it's an absolutely inspiring, disturbing, and thought provoking book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, but only that June 27 1998
By A Customer
The author has had a good idead, but barely little else. The writing is sloppy, the storyline is implausible and the characters are completely shallow. At the beginning, all problems are magically solved, as if the author hadn't enough imagination to deal with them. Then an expedition of unprepared, old people is sent to make contact with extraterrestrials. An then the aliens raping humans? Come on. I haven't seen any profound philosophical or trascendental questions, at least not more than the ones found in most good science fiction books. The science fiction frame is completely wrong - this should have been a plain fiction book, with the action taking place on Earth on some distant island, rather than trying to dress it like SF. It would have been much more credible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great characters, good plot, so-so ending Feb. 13 2006
This is something of a rarity among all the science fiction titles published every year: it's a highly intelligent work of literature. That said, plot still counts for something, and endings can make or break books. The fact that this remains a cult classic despite its uneven plot and weak denouement is due to the cast of vivid characters and the strength of ideas expressed, which (ironically) only serve to make the "what the...?" ending even more disappointing.
And those characters! One of the reviewers here said she would like to talk to the entire crew; hell, I want to go with them. (Although I don't want their typical fate at the end.) The depth of religious and philosophical discussions and ruminations nearly makes up for the other flaws, and sets this book well above standard sci-fi fare.
If the ending had been stronger, this would have been a five-star book.
Another intelligent new book for your consideration: An Audience for Einstein. Set in the near future, Mark Wakely's book chronicles the "rebirth" of a genius by questionable means, in a highly entertaining and surprisingly touching story that (like The Sparrow) will stay with you
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5.0 out of 5 stars The BEST intellectual sci-fi book in existence May 2 2011
I have been reading "legitimate" Sci-Fi (not fantasy) for over 40 years and this book (with its sequel "Children of God") is undoubtedly the BEST, most awe-inspiring, enrapturing novel ever written.
I have read both books 3 times, and each time I am in awe - of the details, the ethical and moral dissection, and the plot which is both entrancing and entrapping.
If you (or anyone you know) is into Sci-Fi or, for that matter, into the deepest aspects of the ethical and moral dilemmas of vastly different cultures and customs on a collision course, then you must read both novels.
Brilliant, fascinating, intelligent, deeply moving and religious throughout (regardless of your religious leanings), this novel speaks to everyone and challenges your views of the universe, the diversity of "life" there might be out there, and the effects of forcibly placing 2 vastly different worlds and their customs/ethics/morals together in one place.
I challenge you to find a better book in existence. make things even better........the sequel "Children of God" is EVEN BETTER!!!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommend to me by my daughter and I love it!
This is a good sci fi story. Haven't finished yet. The story thread weaves an interesting approach to this mans life.
Published 6 months ago by Kathleen
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my Favorites
The Sparrow is a book about the existence of an alien race on another planet, and the expedition of a space crew to explore and learn from this newly discovered race. Read more
Published on March 1 2010 by Sleuth Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down.
This book grabs you and throws you into the world of M.D.R's imagination. My wife read it after I was done with it and had to put it down because she became so attached to the... Read more
Published on Dec 3 2004 by Paul J. Redmond
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
What a truly amazing book! I think it must be close to the best book I've ever read. Although it's classed as science fiction, it's better described as a book that examines the... Read more
Published on June 17 2004 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't finish it
I tried to read this book a few years ago, and I struggled just to get a quarter of the way through... Then I just put it down. Which is something I rarely ever do. Read more
Published on June 15 2004 by K. L. Obrien
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!
A friend of mine who reads a ton recommended this book, and although I am not generally a fan of this type of book, I thought I would give it a try. I LOVED IT! Read more
Published on June 14 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've ever read
What an amazing book! Though superficially it could be classified as science fiction, this book defies genre. Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by M. Fairchild
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