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The Sparrow: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – September 8, 1997
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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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So when first contact is made with an alien world in the neighboring galaxy of Alpha Centauri, and that first contact comes in the form of lovely, wistful, transcendent music, Father Sandoz is astounded and amused and intrigued. But when he and each of his closest friends turn out to have the precise skill sets required to make the journey out to this new world, he is shaken. And when, against all possible odds, Father Sandoz and those dearest to his heart land on that far away alien Garden of Eden just eighteen short months later, he is transported. For the first time, he feels, he has encountered and fallen in love with the Living God.
But crossing languages, cultures, and species is a treacherous business. As missionaries throughout the millennia of human history have learned, the cost of leading the vanguard of discovery can be very, very high. How will a fledgling faith hold up in the face of loss and suffering and despair? Can we love a God who takes away as much as He gives, who is neither simple, predictable, or safe?
Mary Doria Russell accomplished in her debut, award-winning novel what I thought was impossible in the modern age. She married the foremost theories of medicine and technology with one of the oldest and most rigidly structured religious faiths. She took atheist and Jesuit characters and treated each with the same honest affection, bound them together as a family unit, and then dissected them in a ruthless pursuit of literally "universal" truths. She did not shy away from a single charged, political question. She looked the reader in the face as she led us to an abyss we all recognize, but work very hard to ignore.
I have a new favorite book, folks. And I am challenged, once again, to expand my own view of what's possible to achieve in fiction.
The Sparrow starts with Emilio, a Jesuit priest. The year is 2060 and Emilio has just returned from a 5-6 year mission (lasting 40 earth years) to Alpha Centauri. Radio waves were discovered originating from there in 2019, and a Jesuit Mission was secretly launched to investigate and spread the Word of God.
The book starts at the end. Emilio is the only surviving mission member and he returns in disgrace- declared a murderer and a prostitute. Not only that but he has been crippled and maimed. The book then flashes back to 2019 and we get to see a kind, loving, and brilliant young priest. So what happened? The book is basically Emilio's 'confession' to the Father General. We get to see the forming of the mission and then listen to what happened.
The book is amazingly well written... and one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a long time. The book does has some issues- namely, very poor science fiction, head scratching questions regarding crew selection, the glossing over of deaths, and a resoundingly conflicting ending. Overall, I will probably read the next book. But not immediately. I need time to 'digest' The Sparrow.
The book, while spiritual, is not religion heavy. As an Agnostic, I enjoyed reading it.
I rate it as a 5 but could be anywhere from 3-5. I had a 4 star put in before writing the review...
My interpretation of the content of this book may be the result of not reading the reviews of the book before reading it myself. This book appears to have as much to do with a man's journey with God as Dona Tartt's book "The Goldfinch" has to do with the drug culture, Absolutely none, from my point of view.
This book is a story about the relationship that a child has with an adult figure and the ultimate betrayal of that child when the child is raped by that adult. There are a lot of clues that suggest this is the story that the author is trying to express, but the final clue is when Emelio is raped. The rape, as portrayed by the author, is one that can not be avoided. There is the fear of what may be happening and the ultimate violation. A child expects that the relationship with an adult to be one where the adult takes the pains away that are encountered as the child goes through life. What greater violation can occur for a child when an adult, who they trust, violates the covenant of the relationship that should exist between the child and the adult.