By Mary Doria Russell
Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780449912553, September 1997, 448pp.)
The Short of It:
This is one of those stories that innocently skips along and then delivers such a powerful punch to the gut, that you’ll want to forget what you’ve read as soon as you’ve read it.
The Rest of It:
I am not even going to attempt to describe the story to you in detail because that is half the adventure and this is definitely a novel you will want to experience on your own. I will say, that it’s about a newly discovered planet and the group sent to investigate it.
As you can imagine with a book like this, part of the suspense comes from WHAT is on the planet and how our group which includes Jesuit priests, a doctor, an engineer, an astronomer and an indentured computer specialist deals with what is thrown at them. And there is a lot thrown at them. Figuring out food and cultivating plants that they recognize is one challenge, determining the effects that the climate and environment have on their bodies is another challenge and really, just learning how to adapt to what they have in front of them is what keeps them busy much of the time.
What makes this an entertaining read is the group itself. Many were friendly back on Earth before their mission, so there is a lot of humor and well-placed sarcasm as everyone gets used to spending so much time together. They all fit, if that makes any sense even though many of them come from very different backgrounds.
But something terrible happens.
The story jumps around a bit between the before, during and after parts of the mission so very early on, you know that something horrible has happened and so this cake walk of visiting an unknown planet and the funny parts interspersed between the more serious issues, felt like I was being led along a very long plank and that any moment I would be plunged into the icy depths below. And that is EXACTLY what happens!
Everyone who reads this book says stuff like, “I feel totally wrung out”, “This book destroyed me” or “I cannot un-see what I’ve seen in my head.” I agree with these statements but what’s totally weird is that I saw it all coming and NONE if it really shocked me and yet, because I was strung along for so long, it hit me HARD. I read this for the #sparrowRAL (read along) and I finished it when others were still reading so when the air was sucked out of me, I had no one to turn to! I finished it at work too which added to my overall anxiety over the ending.
As far as science fiction goes, it felt very current to me even though much of it takes place in 2060. There is a sequel, Children of God, which I did not know about until after I finished The Sparrow but I feel absolutely no need to read the second book.
Things you should know:
- Contains heavy religious themes but mostly deals with the question of whether or not God exists
- Packs a punch and you will be a little ill after reading it. Make sure you have someone to discuss it with or you will lose your mind.
- It takes a long time to get into the story (IMO). Lots of set-up and back and forth.
- The idea of interacting with an alien race and how it’s handled here will fascinate you.
- If you are at all interested in societal structure, you will have loads to consider.
- After finishing the book, I suggest you gaze at pictures of cute puppies and kittens for a day or two because the images that Russell paints will be stuck in your mind for a very long time.
I can’t say that it’s a favorite of mine but it is a book that will stay with me forever and I am glad that I finally read it. Thanks Trish for hosting the read along. I probably would not have picked it up had you not chosen it.
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19 thoughts on “Review: The Sparrow”
I have had the innocent intention of reading this novel forever and, for some reason, I keep forgetting. I need to bookmark this!
I am not sure how anyone can say that they loved this book because it destroys you in many ways but it’s got quite the fan following. You want to read this with others though because you will need to discuss it right after.
This is one of those books I know I SHOULD read yet I don’t feel terribly compelled to do so.
I think it would be a tough book for you to read. The subject matter and that ending… oh! I am still feeling the effects of it.
I am kicking myself for not getting in on this readalong! Must read it at some point…
If you ever do get to it, come back and chat with me about it.
Thank you for this. Sounds ambitious, but I think I’ll take a pass on putting more disturbing images in my mind. God knows we all have too many already.
The ending really was disturbing. I still have those visuals stuck in my head.
Doesn’t seem like I’ll get to it at least in the near future, but there is enough here that makes me feel I still need to read it. I feel a little left out…so many people talk about this one!
I think you hit the nail on the head. I think a lot of people read it so they can be included in the conversation. I think it will majorly piss you off, though.
I’ve had so many people tell me that this book is perfect for me. I really do need to get around to reading it one of these days.
I’m not sure it can be described as perfect for anyone! It’s gut-wrenching and you have to have a lot of patience to find out what happens because she strings you along forever.
Having just drafted my post (for next week), I’m finally allowing myself to read other’s thoughts. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here except that the ending didn’t punch me like I was expecting it to. It wasn’t until AFTER that part that I felt my heart absolutely squeezed. I’m still trying to sort everything out in my head. How do you come back from something like that? But in the end he was able to pick up his pieces and I think he will be able to heal. I don’t care to read the follow-up either. I’ve heard it’s more hopeful but I’ll just keep my memories of these characters as they are.
I think people can overcome a lot. I’m not sure how HE can though with the constant, visual reminder of those mangled hands. I think telling his story certainly helped him “share the burden” of his pain but to me, he felt some guilt too… getting others involved, his lack of faith, as if that alone brought this on. The only saving grace is that I don’t think any of them thought they were harming him when they did what they did to him. Seemed like it was supposed to be an honor to endure such a thing. It’s an alien race, they have a different set of beliefs and maybe there is something to grasp at there.
I went back and reread your review because I’m so shocked you managed to see everything coming and thought maybe I miss read it. I felt like I was constantly being thrown for a loop. As I told Trish, I wish I had been on twitter during the discussion of the book. Like you, I finished it early, felt wrung out, and had no one to talk to. In fact, I’m still feeling a bit dazed and pained over the ending.
That first death sucked me into thinking that maybe everything was not going to be so awful. And then….I so did not see what happened happening!
Really? I maybe did not see the baby thing happening, but I expected the thing with Emilio.