The Sparrow

Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow Cover

The Sparrow


It's hard to describe how I feel about The Sparrow. I give it high marks, four of five stars, and consider it one of the most beautiful–and disturbing–books I've read in recent memory.

In the not so distant future of 2019, humanity receives a transmission of alien origin, tracing it back to a star system not too far from Earth. While the world considers, Jesuits plan a trip, gather a team, and travel to the planet of the singers heard in the transmission.

On the planet Rakhat, the source of the songs heard in the transmission, the motley crew of priests, an engineer, doctor, and linguists discover a beautiful world, of colorful species, sentient and otherwise.

Up to now, the plot has all the indications of good science fiction. As the story progressed, and I fell deeper into the lives of Russell's characters, the science fiction became less the plot and more a plot device to move along a deeply moving story.

Deeply moving, and also at times deeply painful. Taking place in 2019 and in 2060, at the beginning and the end of the expedition. The technique is a fascinating, providing constant foreshadowing and allowing comparison of the progress and change as events happen, characters change, and explanation of what and why. While initially the contraposition was confusing, as the stories draw closer together in time the effect is enlightening.

While nothing in the book is salacious, glorifies violence, or profanity, be aware that there are moments where the content is difficult, heavy, and disturbing, though all of it fits and builds to a beautiful story of one man's relationship with and path to find God.