Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)” as Want to Read:
The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Sparrow (The Sparrow #1)

by
4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  29,953 ratings  ·  3,936 reviews
Alternate cover edition located here.

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
...more
Paperback, 408 pages
Published September 8th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1996)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Sparrow, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Deborah Sexton I do not think so. It does not promote a specific religion. The main character is a Jesuit priest so you learn a lot about the teachings and beliefs…moreI do not think so. It does not promote a specific religion. The main character is a Jesuit priest so you learn a lot about the teachings and beliefs of Catholicism but it's not proselyting in any way. However, there are some things that happen that are upsetting. I would rate some of the things that happen to the main character R if it were shown in a movie. (less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Deborah Sexton There are some things you never know. It is mentioned in the sequel that Ann, the doctor, did not have the equipment or other means to figure out what…moreThere are some things you never know. It is mentioned in the sequel that Ann, the doctor, did not have the equipment or other means to figure out what they died from. (less)
Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardDune by Frank Herbert1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
48th out of 4,471 books — 16,064 voters
The Help by Kathryn StockettWater for Elephants by Sara GruenThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Best for Book Clubs
111th out of 3,493 books — 8,979 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Lori (Hellian)
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 approach ...more
Brad
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
Matt
Mar 01, 2014 Matt rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Manny
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
...more
Dorothy
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
...more
Stephen
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
...more
Mary Ellen
Aug 07, 2011 Mary Ellen rated it 1 of 5 stars
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 audie ...more
Lisa Vegan
Feb 04, 2009 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Brooke
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
...more
Julie
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
...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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
...more
Zach
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.
Penny
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
...more
Veeral
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
...more
Mary
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
...more
Dana Stabenow
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David
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
...more
Brian
Awful.

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, so...it'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
...more
Jon
Apr 12, 2013 Jon added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon by: Alternate Worlds Feb 2009 Selection
Apatt
“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 an
...more
Stacey
I'm not sure I can adequately express how profoundly this novel affected me. I certainly wasn't expecting such a personal examination of faith. I can't really find the words to explain the physical and emotional reaction the story evoked for me, but I believe that for anyone who has ever lived a life of faith, and then found it severely shaken or lost, they would also find Emilio Sandoz's tale to be a visceral read as they recall their own process.

Beautiful writing.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 18, 2011 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it 5 of 5 stars
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 w ...more
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 5...so 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
...more
Mark
Incredibly clever novel which drew me in on so many levels of interest. Religion, science fiction, romance, epic struggles of the underdog fighting for justice, of the innocent being radically misuderstood, of sinister and underhand governance and of incredible examples of nobility and courage. However, overstretching the whole piece or perhaps better still as a foundational challenge is the stark question of how one person's generosity can be another's oppression.

It is the story of time travel
...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Aug 30, 2014 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: vegetarian atheists, carnivorous Jesuits -- or both
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Manny Rayner
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cara O'Brien
I had really high hopes for this book, and I was really into the first third of the book or so. Once I got to the middle, however, the story really started to drag. I felt like the author was trying to pound the ideas and characters into my head just by repeating the same thing over and over again, not really making any progress. I just wanted to scream, "Okay, I get it! Get on with the story!" I didn't bother finishing it.

All in all, I felt like this book could be great, but only with lots of
...more
Monica Perez
It is breaking my heart that the author has chosen to use this nicely written book and well-developed story as a showcase for her simplistic political stereotypes and contemporary American political prejudices. Several breath-taking examples include: a couple described as "typical liberal do-gooders;" a (womanizing) Jesuit priest who was sick as a child described as "lucky enough to be a Canadian when universal health care was available;" and another rails against "the persistence of evil and of ...more
Lyn
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
...more
Jackie "the Librarian"
The basic plot of this book is that Earth picks up transmissions from another planet, and the Jesuit arm of the Catholic church sends out a delegation on their own to make first contact. Because of differences in culture, things don't turn out so well.

We are told the story from both ends, from the very beginning, when the transmissions are received and the idea to go to their source first gets batted around, and from the end, after the lone survivor of the mission gets back to Earth. We know so
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Air
  • Beggars in Spain (Sleepless, #1)
  • A Door Into Ocean
  • The Mount
  • Eifelheim
  • Stories of Your Life and Others
  • China Mountain Zhang
  • He, She and It
  • Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)
  • The Speed of Dark
  • In the Garden of Iden (The Company, #1)
  • A Woman of the Iron People
  • Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis, #1-3)
  • Ammonite
  • Grass (Arbai, #1)
  • Sarah Canary
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness (Hainish Cycle #7)
  • The Islanders
4007
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
More about Mary Doria Russell...
Children of God (The Sparrow, #2) A Thread of Grace Doc Dreamers of the Day Epitaph

Share This Book

“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.” 67 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.” 58 likes
More quotes…