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The Sparrow (The Sparrow #1)

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  40,368 Ratings  ·  5,161 Reviews
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that 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 ...more
Paperback, 431 pages
Published September 8th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
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Olivia I think this book does an amazing job at handling a range of religious beliefs and associations (agnosticism, atheism, Judaism and Catholicism) and as…moreI think this book does an amazing job at handling a range of religious beliefs and associations (agnosticism, atheism, Judaism and Catholicism) and as an agnostic Jew myself, I found that while the primary focus is on the Catholic faith, the Jewish faith / culture was fairly and beautifully handled. The bigger issue is that this book does have a possible trigger warning for rape and can be very unsettling in that regard but I believe it respectfully and kindly navigates the murky waters of conflicting views of faith and religion quite well.(less)
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Genia Lukin It's not meant to be explained. It's a result of interacting with a new and alien biosphere, and not knowing precisely what you're interacting with,…moreIt's not meant to be explained. It's a result of interacting with a new and alien biosphere, and not knowing precisely what you're interacting with, which is not an unusual situation for explorers and first-time travelers. Even on Earth, people went to a new place, caught a new and unknown disease, and died of it, and that would only be exacerbated by it being a totally different planet.(less)

Community Reviews

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Mar 05, 2016 Lori rated it really liked it
I had picked this up years ago due to all the terrific reviews, but when I started it, since it involves priests and such, I thought it was going to be a Christian book. So I'm really glad that a group decided to read this, because it is NOT a yah-yah Christian book at all. I would instead call it a spiritual book in that the journey involves time old questions, of faith, of God, of religion, of humanity. And altho most of the main characters are indeed Jesuits and so many questions and ...more
Feb 21, 2009 Brad rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, speculative
I had wanted to read The Sparrow since its release back in 1996/1997. I had seen a review of it and loved the basic idea of future Jesuits being the first “missionaries” to make contact with the first sentient alien species discovered. But I lost that review and was never able to figure out the name of the book or the author. I tried to discover it everywhere I went, and all those I asked were oblivious. I really thought I would have no trouble tracking it down, but I couldn’t, so after a while ...more
Jul 07, 2016 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of soft sci-fi
Shelves: science-fiction
I've hit page 199 of 'The Sparrow' and the viscosity of the text is increasing.

By page 12, I had a lot of hope for this book. By page 88 I was really into the book, and thinking there was a good chance this was a 4 or 5 star book. At this point though, I'm not sure I can summon enough conviction up to finish it.

Russell takes a gamble with her story of telling it from the beginning and end toward the middle, and relies extremely heavily on foreshadowing. It’s high risk technique with a big payoff
This is the third SF story I've read where a Jesuit priest goes on an expedition to another planet and suffers a spiritual crisis as a result. It's almost becoming a sub-genre. I don't want to call Emilio a whiner or anything - obviously, what happens to him is truly horrible. But, much as I hate to say it, his tragedy seemed lightweight compared to the other two, and I felt disappointed. I was expecting something a little more cosmic in scale.

Of the three stories, the one I found most effective
Mar 30, 2016 Lyn rated it really liked it
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was Russell’s first novel and was published in 1996. Winning many accolades and several awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, it describes a first contact between humans and an alien race. A group led by Jesuit priests travels to a planet near Alpha Centauri after alien singing is picked up from interspace radio signals.

This is a beautifully written novel with brilliant characterization (really the greatest strength of the novel) that is poignant in its
Jan 02, 2014 Dorothy rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Babcock
It has been a while since a book made me cry.

The Sparrow begins with a concise prologue, so unassuming that I overlooked its significance. Within this prologue, however, is a reminder, a sort of caveat that hangs over the book:
The Society [of Jesus:] asked leave of no temporal government. It acted on its own principles, with its own assets, on Papal authority. The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately—a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to
Mary Ellen
Jan 17, 2015 Mary Ellen rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People who want to feel better about their own writing abilities.
Recommended to Mary Ellen by: Someone I still can't bring myself to forgive.
Sadly, goodreads has yet to allow a kill-it-with-fire rating, so I'll have to content myself with a one star review and a nice cup of tea to quell the overpowering nausea. Not due to the "shocking" ending, which I would have welcomed somewhere around page two. Not due to the incompetent sci and incredibly half-assed fi. Due to the revolting, self-congratulatory, aren't-we-so-clever-and-cute, wink-to-the-audience characters. But perhaps this was intentional. Perhaps Ms. Russell intended her ...more
Aug 28, 2015 Apatt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” (Matthew 10:29)
“But the sparrow still falls.”
I think the second sentence in the above quote (from page 401) basically says “shit happens”. It does encapsulate the major theme of the novel quite well I think.

The Sparrow is one of those books I hear people raving about and immediately put on my TBR list, but it won’t stay there quietly as I keep hearing about it almost on a weekly basis. So I have to capitulate or go mad a
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carmen by: Lots of people
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 11, 2009 Zach rated it did not like it
Irritating. Irritating prose, irritating philosophizing, intensely irritating structure, and SUPREMELY irritating characters. Honestly, a more annoying set of self-satisfied "witty" bourgeois assholes you will not find.
Tom Mathews
The most difficult thing about reading Mary Doria Russell’s books is just starting them. If you don’t like war stories you aren’t going to want to read A Thread of Grace. If you don’t like westerns, you’ll be tempted to avoid Doc or Epitaph. And if you are not big on science fiction, the descriptions of The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God, aren’t going to get you excited. That’s where I was when a coworker first recommend it almost ten years ago. She described it as a story about a first ...more
6.0 stars. This book was beautifully written and the best way I can think to describe it is emotionally devastating (but in a good way). Nominally, it is a book about "first contact" with an alien race but the heart of the story is the age old question, "How can someone believe in a just, loving God when such horrible things happen to good people?"

It has been over a year since I have read this book (in fact I just finished the sequel, Children of God), and I can still remember feeling blown awa
Jan 09, 2014 Julie rated it it was amazing
I wonder how it feels to be one of the thirty-one agents who rejected The Sparrow?

Oh, but I shouldn’t be so hard on hapless agents unable to recognize genius or unwilling to take a risk. It took me many years (seventeen from its date of publication, five from when I became aware of it) to pick up Mary Doria Russell’s debut novel. And four days to devour it.

The threaded narrative is split in two by time and space, but follows the story of one man: Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest from Puerto Rico
Lisa Vegan
Jan 02, 2014 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who enjoy thought provoking and character driven science fiction
I read this author’s A Thread of Grace with my real world book club and I really enjoyed it and this looked interesting so I put this book on my to-read shelf because of that, even though that book is historical fiction and this book is science fiction/speculative fiction. An online book club inspired me to actually choose it to read from my very long to-read shelf and I am so grateful to have read it.

I don’t know the bible so I didn’t know why the title was The Sparrow until a few pages from t
Dana Stabenow
Feb 27, 2009 Dana Stabenow rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Derus
Jan 12, 2012 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
Rating: 4* of five

Gorgeous book, both physically and in content. I was riveted from first to last, and completely bought into the premise: A privately financed interstellar journey never seemed nore likely than in the world Russell posits is coming from our own era.

Beautiful, beautiful writing! The descriptions of Rukhat are spare and evoked so much for me. The descriptions of Earth's near-enough future were pitch-perfect to my ears as well, though a lot less beautiful in the images they left be

(Full disclosure: Book abandoned on page 106 [out of 431].)
In the next hour, George and Jimmy and Sofia outlined the ideas for him: how wildcatters selected and obtained suitable asteroids and outfitted them with life support, how the engines broke down silicates to use as fuel to move the asteroids to Earth-orbit refineries, how twenty-ton loads of refined metals were aimed, like the old Gemini capsules, at recovery sites in the ocean of Japan’s coast. How you could scale the s
Jan 25, 2009 Brooke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, 2009
In a word - excellent. The Sparrow is a "first contact" science fiction novel, but it's also an example of the genre that's great for non-SF fans. Although it's a story about a Jesuit mission to an alien planet, the focus is more on the question of faith.

The novel uses a non-linear storytelling device, so in the first few pages you know the outcome - Emilio Sandoz has returned to earth alone and broken, and scandalous stories about a dead child and a brothel have preceded him. His superiors atte
Jan 25, 2011 Brian rated it did not like it

Poorly thought out, too. Somehow there's near lightspeed travel, yet they can't radio for help because. Well. Whatever.

And don't start me on the fragmented flashback / present nonsense. Tell your damn story in chronological order, thank you.

The whole book is a vehicle for the author's extensive experience in things other than science-fiction,'s more exegesis than story.

To clarify - the writing style is ok, but could be improved to my taste, and while the plot is also fine, I don't
Wonderful book! I was totally hooked from the very start. Although the main character is a Jesuit, I didn't find the religion heavy or predominant. It was well balanced with science which is the impression you get from the author herself so it isn't surprising.

Mary Doria Russell has joined our book club for a Q&A about this novel which has given lots of great insight into this brilliant piece of science fiction.

The journey is magnificent, beautiful and heartbreaking. Since the story is pre
The Sparrow is a first-contact novel by Mary Doria Russell where humans in 2019 A.D. go on an interstellar mission from Earth to make "first-contact" with an alien species on a planet which, later they would come to know as Rakhat. The plot follows two timelines – one, of the scientific mission itself and the other, in the year 2060 A.D., where the sole survivor of the mission, Emilio Sandoz, Jesuit priest and linguist, returns alone to Earth and recounts his horrific experience.

The book was go
Mike (the Paladin)
A good book at times even a painful book. I bounced between 3 and 4 stars a few times. This is a read to enter into advisedly. It is painful, but the story is good.

I could actually call it beautiful at times, beautiful, challenging, thought provoking, and of course, painful. It is as I said hard to rate. close to 3 but at times almost a 4.

No more or I'll give a spoiler (or more than one). Don't look for a space opera here. Look for a deep and thoughtful story asking questions that may or
Apr 04, 2008 Mary rated it it was amazing
In 1492 Christopher Columbus set out on his infamous voyage to discover the New World. His purpose would seem to be a very noble one of expanding the horizons of the present day world in the name of the royalty of Spain and the holy Christian faith. What he succeeded in doing, however, was nearly exterminate the vast majority of the Native inhabitants of this new world and to grow the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1519 Hernan Cortes left Cuba seeking riches in the islands to the west. What he suc
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 18, 2011 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: julie
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Jacquelyn
It took me a while to get into this book, partly because a similar book about a religious order exploring another planet was much more engaging from the start (Anathem by Neal Stephenson). Once I hit page 100 though, I started realizing how deeply I was caring for this cast of characters. It might seem strange to read a book about Jesuits in space, but really this book is about the span between belief and doubt, the complexity of relationships, and the moral and ethical dilemmas that are faced ...more
Althea Ann
Apr 03, 2015 Althea Ann rated it really liked it
Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest, has returned from humanity' first mission to contact aliens - the sole survivor. A broken man, both physically mutilated and psychologically tormented, he refuses to speak about his experiences. But rumor spread years before his return, and he has become a pariah. Did he not destroy the integrity of an alien culture, introducing forbidden concepts? Did he not betray all his moral standards, sinking into debauchery and inter-species prostitution? Did he?

Feb 02, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
Upgraded my rating of this book to 5 stars (January 6th, 2008) because it was definitely one of the 5 best books I read in 2007. Thought-provoking and gripping and I still find myself thinking about the questions it raised while I was reading it.

This was a terrific book, on many levels. An engrossing story, engaging characters, fascinating premise - I was riveted throughout. It's impossible to categorize this book - classifying it as science fiction (it's about an exploratory mission to a newly
I can't even.

Okay, so this review will be much like the book itself - a little from the beginning, a little from the end, a little from the middle, and it'll unfold very slowly. So just get used to that now and don't cry about it later.

I was really on board with this book for quite a bit. I didn't mind the characters initially, I thought they were all interesting (though flawed in their stereotypes); the slowly unfolded introduction to each of them and their personalities felt solid and importan
I don't really know how to describe The Sparrow, nor do I really know how to express how much I enjoyed it.

I originally bought it because it was getting nominated for a lot of awards and many people said it was good science fiction. I didn't know then that it had to do with Jesuits or that it was a first contact story, I just knew it was supposed to be good. Then Sword and Laser had a poll to see what the January, 2015 pick would be and it was up for the title. It had been nominated once before.
Nancy Brady
3.5 stars actually...this is science fiction blended with spirituality.

When songs are discovered through long-range telescopes at Arecibo, intelligent life is suspected in another galaxy. A group of friends including several Jesuit priests travel to Rakhat, where another earth-like place exists.

Told through various times and places, the story of their discovery and what happened to those who went are parsed out. Because of light-speed, time on earth, time to travel, and time on Rakhat is often
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Mary Doria Russell is an American author. She was born in 1950 in the suburbs of Chicago. Her parents were both in the military; her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and her mother was a Navy nurse.

She holds a Ph.D. in Paleoanthropology from the University of Michigan, and has also studied cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, and social anthropology at Northeastern Univer
More about Mary Doria Russell...

Other Books in the Series

The Sparrow (2 books)
  • Children of God (The Sparrow, #2)

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“I do what I do without hope of reward or fear of punishment. I do not require Heaven or Hell to bribe or scare me into acting decently.” 96 likes
“The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.” 67 likes
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