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The Sparrow

(The Sparrow #1)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  69,573 ratings  ·  7,609 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, 516 pages
Published September 8th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
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Cheryl Our book group read it some years ago, and had a great discussion. 2 members are Jewish, 2 Catholic, 1 Presbyterian, 1 raised Catholic, converted to J…moreOur book group read it some years ago, and had a great discussion. 2 members are Jewish, 2 Catholic, 1 Presbyterian, 1 raised Catholic, converted to Judaism, 1 atheist. The book is definitely unsettling, but not because of religion. I realize your question was asked two years ago, but I'd love to know if you decided to go for it!(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, w…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)

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Average rating 4.11  · 
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Jan 19, 2009 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 approach ...more
Emily (Books with Emily Fox)
If God is anything like a middle-class white chick from the suburbs, which i admit is a long shot, it's what you do about what feel that matters.

(4.25?) This was a beautiful and heart wrenching book. The characters were attaching and you can't help but root for them... but also cry with them. An interesting take on the first contact with alien trope.
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: speculative, sci-fi
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
Jun 02, 2008 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
Maggie Stiefvater
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended, adult
What a strange, accomplished nautilus of a novel, every chamber containing both joy and tragedy.
"What is a life worth living, and what is a life wasted, and why? What is worth dying for, what is worth living for, and why? What shall I teach my child to value, and what shall I urge that child to avoid, and why? What am I owed by others and what do I owe others, and why? Each human culture provides a different set of answers to those questions, but deity is nearly always embedded in the Why."

The above quote is from Mary Doria Russell in her Afterword of this brilliant novel. I think they su
Apr 25, 2012 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
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
Mary Ellen
Aug 06, 2011 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 audie ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: husbands-wives
If called upon to imagine a scenario in which the faith of the devoutly religious is put most severely to the test I would probably think of the Jews in the Nazi death camps. What they experienced and witnessed is almost like science fiction in the unimaginable scope of its horror. Mary Doria Russell chooses the genre of science fiction to dramatize one human being's dark night of the soul and it's certainly the most imaginative account of a spiritual crisis I've ever read.

The Sparrow is about
Leonard Gaya
In the spring of 1636, Isaac Jogues, Society of Jesus, sailed from France to Quebec. He was part of a Jesuit party set out for the New World, to Christianise the native population of what was then called Nouvelle-France (a vast territory colonised by the Crown of France, that spanned from the Labrador and the Saint Lawrence River, to the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and Louisiana). Father Jogues settled in Ontario with a group of Jesuit missionaries, among the Iroquois, the Huron and the Algonqu ...more
Dec 25, 2014 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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 31, 2009 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. ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love when I skim through pages of reviews of a book and they are nearly all either 5 stars or one star. Only a really good book produces that range of opinion! This is a really good book.

The Sparrow is science fiction with class. It is well written, there is a satisfying amount of science fiction and then there is a whole lot more besides. Russell's greatest talent is in characterisation. I enjoyed every single one of the characters in this book and when I had to put it down and do other thing
Jun 19, 2014 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, where hundreds of books languish, but it won’t stay there quietly as I keep hearing about it almost on a weekly basis.
Kara Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Well, dang it.

Dang it!

I was NOT in the mood to give another scathing review of a book, especially not a book that has a near cultish fan following, as this one does.

This is a seriously beloved book (with a 4.17 overall rating).

But, for the first time in my existence on this planet, I'm going to quote Whitesnake:

Here I go again on my own
Goin' down the only road I've ever known
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.
And I've made up my mind, I ain't wasting no more time.

Yep, that's right. I jus
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Let me be a bit real here. I was a bit anxious about reading this because it seemed to be yet another Jesuit first contact novel including aliens.

Now, let me be clear. I actually like religious ruminations when I'm in the right mood and when it's done well and when the context is backed up with solid world-building, whether local or extra-solar. Blish did it extremely well with his Jesuits and aliens. I was simply worried that this would be more of the same. Meaning of life and faith for the poo
Oct 29, 2013 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
Dana Stabenow
Dec 11, 2008 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes we are surprised and taken aback by a novel. Even when we have been told to expect something marvelous, we cannot be prepared for the depths to which it will take us and return us again. Such a one is The Sparrow. Mary Doria Russell tackles the hard questions, the cosmic questions, the ones that have tortured man since his inception. She presents us with Job, Cain, and Christ, and without ever flinching from the moral dilemma that is man’s lot, she presents them to us without imposing ...more
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
Diane Barnes
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Some day I will surely learn not to judge a book by its genre. When it comes to science fiction, I have a tendency to give it a pass. I want to like it, and have in fact read a few that I liked, but I'm generally lost from the beginning and give up, or finish til the end and still have no idea what I just read. Lest you sci-fi fans out there judge me harshly, let me just say that I consider sci-fi readers to have very high IQ's, else how could they understand what's going on? All this t
Simon Fay
In science fiction, space exploration is usually spearheaded by intellectuals, the military, mega-corporations, and even the average joes of our near future.

With The Sparrow, Mary Russell goes a unique direction by taking inspiration from the explorers of times past – The Catholic Church. It’s a concept with some hefty potential. The early parts of the book lean heavily on it to create a sense of wonder and dread. As a wannabe history buff, I was titillated by the idea of taking a religious orga
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
Apr 08, 2008 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
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Can't put any thoughts here yet since husband hasn't finished reading ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 12, 2012 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
Britta Böhler
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It gets better with every re-read.
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All About Books: The Sparrow (Colleen, Joan, Pam, Nichole, and Greg) 97 76 Jan 25, 2020 06:44AM  
SF/F Read Alongs: [November] The Sparrow 17 32 Dec 10, 2019 01:07PM  

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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

Other books in the series

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

Articles featuring this book

Science fiction and fantasy have spawned some of the most imaginative plots and settings in existence. Makes sense, given that these genres are...
256 likes · 102 comments
“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.” 145 likes
“There's an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So He breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists."

So God just leaves?"

No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering."

Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine: Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it."

But the sparrow still falls.”
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