The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

TheSparrowA few months ago, I discovered and, soon thereafter, the BookRiot weekly podcast.  I listen to podcasts or audiobooks every morning while getting ready for work (my tiny reward for getting out of bed), and the BookRiot podcast has quickly become a favorite.  I’ve even started following the hosts – Rebecca Schinsky, Jeff O’Neal, and Amanda Nelson – on Twitter.  Yes, I know, I’m a nerd, but my husband is currently watching a tv show on paper airplanes, so at least I’m the least nerdy person in my house.  Anyway, Rebecca Schinsky has mentioned The Sparrow no less than five times, so I finally decided to pick it up.  It is, in short, a story about Jesuits in space.  The long description isn’t much different – a group of individuals, including several priests, discover the planet of Rakhat and, funded by the Jesuit order, set off on a secret mission to make contact with the people of Rakhat – the mission trip to beat all mission trips.  Early on, the reader learns that the trip goes wildly wrong, and only one member of the expedition returns.  “The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. …They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. …They meant no harm.”  (Prologue).

The Sparrow is fascinating but dense.  Its contemplative but humorous.  The story is meticulously detailed, I suspect because the author has a science background.  At times, it was to the point that I felt I could skim whole passages, but the writing is so beautiful that to skim would be a waste.    The last 150 pages were fascinating and exciting, so I came away from the book loving it because of those last pages; however, I do remember that there was a point during the middle that I thought I may never finish it.  It seemed ploddingly slow at times, but it rewarded with the ending.

If you enjoy speculative fiction or science fiction, this book will be an enjoyable challenge for you – its more difficult than other books I’ve read in those genres (excepting Margaret Atwood).  If you’ve never spent much time with speculative fiction or scifi but like to read philosophical fiction, The Sparrow is a good cross-over novel  for you.  Set aside a good chunk of time – it took me a couple weeks to get through, which is an anomaly for me.  It certainly won’t be a book that I re-read anytime soon, but I found it thought-provoking and am glad I made the effort.

Click here to purchase the paperback and here to purchase the Kindle version.