Book Reviews of The Sparrow

The Sparrow
The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
ISBN-13: 9780552997775
ISBN-10: 0552997773
Publication Date: 11/1/1997
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.

4.1 stars, based on 16 ratings
Publisher: Transworld Pub
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

40 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed The Sparrow on + 102 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 12
This was an unsettling book. You know within the first several chapters that something very bad has happened but you don't know what or why or how. I found myself speed-reading trying to find out, and even worse, I felt anxious! I really enjoyed it though. The plot is interesting and unusual and the ending causes you to examine your spiritual beliefs very carefully. Without being preachy, the author presents her belief that although there is an all-powerful God out there, He is under no obligation to protect and preserve those who love Him. I'm now looking for the sequel to this, called Children of God. I can't wait to read it!
reviewed The Sparrow on + 20 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 12
I finished this book the other night and am still a bit baffled by it. The character development and first half of the book was so slow and drawn out, a few times I wondered if I should give up (I have only done this once in my life) on it. The 2nd half of the story seemed very rushed to me. So much ground seemed to be glazed over in a dash to the ending. I didn't care for the writers style, not enough "flow" for me but the story is definately different. All in all, an interesting read but not sure I'll be picking up any more books by this author.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 10
This book is amazing. The basic plot is that in 2019 we detect radio signals from a nearby system. The Jesuits decide to mount a private expedition. In 2060, one survivor returns. The question is then: what happened? The author manages to interweave two narratives - the past and the present - seamlessly. She builds suspense, dropping tiny hints about what happened, slowly revealing the horror they experienced. Along the way we must deal with heavy philosophical problems: what is God's will? What is our purpose? How do we deal with an entirely alien civilization? What if our actions have unforeseeable consequences?
reviewed The Sparrow on + 23 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
You'll either hate this book, or love it.

I hated it.

If you like books with action, stay away from it. If you like books where characters with plenty of angst sit around discussing things ENDLESSLY, get it.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Creepy but really good, very well-written.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 20 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I LOVED this book. Full of amazing adventure, relationships and drama. Can't wait to get my hands on the sequel!
reviewed The Sparrow on + 27 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
This is among the top ten best books I have ever read. It will shock you, astound you, make you cry, and make you think deeply about the world. FABULOUS book.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 19 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
This is a very interesting book. I'm not a science-fiction buff, but I did enjoy this for a change of pace. Four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute turned computer expert are selected to explore a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species. Definitely gives you lots to think about!
reviewed The Sparrow on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Beautifully written, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 201 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
If I have my facts right, The Sparrow is Mary Doria Russell's first work of fiction. She was an academic before turning to writing for a living. It won several awards, and I can see why.

It's a story of mankind's first contact with intelligent life from another world. In this case we encounter radio broadcasts from a planet in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri, and an entirely private expedition is mounted and sent there by the Jesuit order before any other body can get things rolling.

Only one of the crew - Father Emilio Sandoz - survives and returns to earth, and the controversy around his return is challenging, to say the least. The book tells the story of the expedition to Rakhat, alternating between the present - after Sandoz's return - and the past - following the expedition directly.

On the plus side, Russell's writing is quite good, and her characters are, by and large, extremely vivid. Though this is a science fiction story, what it features is people and how they deal with events well beyond their control or understanding. We feel for Sandoz in his struggle to come to terms with what happened to him on Rakhat, and for those in his order trying to find out what those events really were.

The alien planet and culture are well described and believable, at least for me. Rakhat is different enough that understanding it isn't trivial, and yet similar enough that there is the basis for some understanding at all. This isn't Star Trek; everyone doesn't speak English.

In general the story is well told, well plotted, and well written, but I have two issues that hold me back from giving this book a really great review.

First, Russell disposes of some of her characters to abruptly, even some we have followed for a long time. Yes, real people do just die, sometimes unexpectedly, but I found that a bit frustration here. I had come to care about these characters over many pages, and found the parting more than abrupt in some cases.

Secondly there are some issues of logic and practicality that Russell ignores. The expedition makes no effort (that we are told about, in any case) to avoid contaminating Rakhat with organisms (of any size) originating on earth, nor do they adequately protect themselves from anything potentially hazardous to humans upon arrival. As a pragmatic manner, even a completely privately funded expedition of this nature would need to take a lot more precautions than are documented here. In truth, such precautions would probably have made the story impossible to tell, though. Contact and linguistic understanding would have taken years, not weeks, and much of the story would not even be possible. In that light I understand the lack of caution, but I lost the willing suspension of disbelief in a few places as a result.

I wish I could bring complex characters like Emilio Sandoz to life on the page the way Russell does. It gives me something to aspire to, I suppose.

reviewed The Sparrow on + 56 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This is a heavy book, emotionally
reviewed The Sparrow on + 5 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I love the unusual mix of science fiction, religion and anthropology that Mary Doria Russell mixes in this tale. The characters are compelling and the story really pulled me in, so much that I am thrilled she wrote a sequel.
reviewed The Sparrow on
Helpful Score: 2
I highly recommend The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. However, it is not for the faint of heart...nor for the weak of stomach. It's a startling, moral book that questions humanity, spirituality, and faith. It involves religion, science fiction/space exploration, and the possibility of alien life forms, but you don't have to be a believer in any of those things to enjoy this book. Just be warned: it is not an easy read.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Fantastic! Intelligent, thought provoking, multifaceted, deep characters, unforgettable story... one of my all time favorites. I highly recommend this story and author to all.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 31 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I liked the book! Very well written and insightful.

[from an online review] -
"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 of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human." When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong... Words like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer."
reviewed The Sparrow on + 14 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
VERY intense, dense and complex, beautifully crafted. Shouldn't miss _Children of God_ either.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 23 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I'm not a big sci-fi fan, but found this book to be thorougly enjoyable and interesting. Mary Russell is a very good story-teller and I do want to read the sequel.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 5 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A wonderful book. The first book that has made me (almost) understand religious faith. The book has a science fiction framework -- a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet with intelligent inhabitants. It has likeable protagonists, a fascinating story (with switches in time and perspective that are really well done), and, a great integration of foreign language/linguistics knowledge in a way that is well done, not overbearing, and enriches the story. Heartily recommended.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 306 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this book, good characters, fast moving and highly readable. Makes me want to read the next one.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 52 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I read this book over a year ago and I still cannot get over it. As an avid reader, I enjoy a lot of books but this one is incredibly thought provoking. Try it -- its not an easy read but it will leave you thinking and pondering on it for a long, long time.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 50 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time. Very thought provoking. Certainly nothing like I was expecting. While there is an element of science fiction to this book, it is not what the book it about at all. It is about faith, sacrifice, and survival. It is a question about what happens when everything you believe to be true is revealed as a farce. I couldn't stop thinking about this book for months after I read it, and I know that I will read it again.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 37 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Highly recommended!
reviewed The Sparrow on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A good read, looking forward to the follow up.
reviewed The Sparrow on
Helpful Score: 1
I read this book on a recommendation, and I am so glad I did. It is a very slow burn, but haunting and extremely well-done. While several characters in the book are Jesuit, I would not call it a Christian book; I'm not a Christian, and I enjoyed the book immensely. Faith is just part of who the people are.

However, the book is not about action. If you enjoyed Michael Flynn's Eifelheim, which I can't suggest strongly enough, you will like this book. The book's greatest success, I think, is convincing the reader that each character is unique and interesting. It's a tragedy, and the reader knows that from the beginning. I felt something for each character because they seemed like real people; I cried more than once. Not everyone's cup of tea, certainly.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 113 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This was a memorable book- I read it years ago and still remember it and think about it occasionally. It was painful to read at times (I won't say why because I don't want to spoil it), but in the end uplifting. Admirable and brave characters, and a glimpse of a different world.

Story of how when an intelligent signal from space was heard, while scientists were discussng what to do, the Jesuits sent a small group of mismatched folks, including a priest, up to the planet to investigate the signal.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 13 more book reviews
There is so much to think about when reading this book: questions of faith and what it means to be human, about the extreme challenges of making ourselves understood and of understanding others, and of course about the nature of love, human and spiritual. If you are looking for light reading, this is not it. The characters are alive and so you feel their excruciating pain. The plot and events are so unexpected and highly imagined, and there is humor! I don't want to give anything away, but I am now completely immersed in the sequel, Children of God and my husband is reading The Sparrow, but I keep picking it back up and reading parts. It's just wonderful and deeply affecting. Try it if you are brave and want an adventure like no other.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 35 more book reviews
"Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it"
"But the sparrow still falls."
And therein lies the premise of this remarkable novel - where is God in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances?
Mary Doria Russell writes with such a convincing style that her characters are real - they have all the depth and complexity of real people. Her creation of an alien world with its life forms, its culture, philosophy languages and government structure are quite remarkable.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone
reviewed The Sparrow on + 2 more book reviews
This book is an excellent read. Do not let the cover or title fool you. Challenges your faith and thinking. Enjoy...
reviewed The Sparrow on + 204 more book reviews
This was a fascinating book. What happens when the Jesuits wind up being first contact with an alien civilization? This is the book that frames it's story around answering that question.

And so the book is about faith. But it's not preachy at all; we have here men of the cloth who generally look at the world head-on and do the right things. That's a treatment of religion that I can get behind, since I'm not asked to believe the superstition, I'm just asked to treat the practitioners with respect and use their works as the basis for how I'm to judge them.

The story is told in two narrative paths, separated by time. It's an interesting choice, and mostly works, once you get used to it. It does allow the "future" narrative to heavily foreshadow and hint, which Russell works as hard as she can without giving everything away. Ultimately, I don't think it worked as well as she would have liked, though.

This was a very enjoyable book, though. I'm glad I found it on the "trade" shelf at work.

4 of 5 stars.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 8 more book reviews
This is a book that wormed its way into my head. It is pretty well-written, with nicely developed characters. The author's tone is a little distant, and I never became truly engaged with the characters, never really FELT what they felt, but they stayed with me all the same, and I will probably keep this book as part of my pantheon.

Ms. Russell touches on themes that also stay with you: bigotry, faith, doubt, and above all redemption. That last one is often the most difficult for people, particularly when it is the redemption of the self (not of someone else) that is at stake. The central character, Emilio Sandoz, is perhaps a bit extreme in his stance, given his character development early in the book, but it makes for a good read, nonetheless.
reviewed The Sparrow on
In a million years I would not have picked this book up to read as it is in the science fiction section. I did read it for my book club and so glad I did. It brought up so many questions about so many issues. We had a great time discussing this book-social, religious, racial issues are among the few topics that came up.

I agree that it is either a love it or hate it kind of book. I am one that does recommend this to people to see their take on it.

As an aside-the sequel, Children of God, was pretty good also.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 5884 more book reviews
More of a "relationship" book about the main characters than a science fiction book. Rather slow moving, we didn't even discover the extraterrestrials until page 88. It jumps back and forth between the near future (2019) and when the guy returns from space (2060). Not really that exhilerating of a read.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 15 more book reviews
I won't get into the plot, because the blurb on the product page does a perfectly good job of that.

The book is extremely well written, and very interesting. It has a definitely thought-out and unusual perspective on the idea of first-contact with aliens.

That said, it was also extremely depressing, and when I finished it, I was quite sure I never want to read it again, and will not recommend it to friends, and do not want to know about what happens in the sequel. It's probably the most nasty, unpleasant, disgusting, depressing end to any book I have ever read, and I sincerely wish I had never read it.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 774 more book reviews
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?
Flashbacks show us the beginnings of the mission: the discovery of
indescribably beautiful song-messages from Alpha Centauri, and how the
Church was the first to acquire the financing to send a mission to the
stars. We learn of Sandoz' early life - how he grew up a tough kid in
the slums, but found a true calling as a priest and a brilliant
linguist. We see the formation of the mission and its goals - and
nothing indicates how Sandoz, seemingly a good, moral, and truly
dedicated man, could have sunk to the depths that it is alleged that
he did... slowly, the truth unravels, and horrific truths are
An extremely well-crafted and deservedly multi-award-winning book,
with a lot of thought-provoking issues explored.
My only issue with the book is that it completely ignores (or expects
that the reader knows) the history of the Jesuits. Russell obviously
did a lot of research into the order and they are believably and
lovingly portrayed: too lovingly. It would seem impossible to tell
this story without reference to the actual, historical record of the
Jesuits and "first contact" with the cultures of the Americas. (Where
they certainly did interfere, and with frequently disastrous, if
arguably well-intentioned, results.) But not one character seems to
consider the issues of their current dilemma in that context, which
seems unlikely, and the ethical questions inherent in "missionary
work" are not directly considered. It is clear that Russell expects
her readers to be able to infer such questions, but I still feel
overall that the book is too sympathetic to missionaries in general.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 163 more book reviews
Well, the character development was quite strong, and the plot interesting with many "twists". There was plenty of discussion about God and religion,and considerable focus on sexuality. The "science" part was less detailed and less plausible.
All in all, I would rate this book "good-very good" and probably will read the sequel.
reviewed The Sparrow on
I really enjoyed this. I agree with other reviewers that the ending seemed rushed, but the rest of the novel was so lovely, and the characters so well drawn, that the resolution wasn't really the most important part for me.
reviewed The Sparrow on
This was THE most interesting/thought-provoking book I have ever read. It isn't an "easy" or light-hearted tale, but it is an intense, very well-written examination of the good and bad in human nature. Read this and the sequel "The Children of God" if you want to encounter characters and themes that will haunt you long after the covers of the book are closed.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 20 more book reviews
The prologue to this book is what hooked me in. "The Jesuit scientists went so that they might come to know and love God's other childrenthey meant no harm." An intriguing premise, members of the Society of Jesus travel to an alien planet and ultimately cause something horrific to happen.

Sadly, this book never got to the place I wanted it to go. The writing is great when it came to descriptions of people and their hopes, desires, struggles, thoughts, personalities. Russell could really paint a scene when it came to describing places or a mood; she has a vast vocabulary. Yet the dialogue was close to unbearable for me. The characters are extremely different personalities yet they all speak in the same sarcastic, cheesy way, with stupid jokes constantly. It was to the point that any character, including the aliens, could be saying any piece of dialogue. There were pointless scenes that went on for pages. The ending was rushed and inconsistent for sure.

The Society of Jesus priests didn't matter. They didn't matter because what happened on the alien planet, to the natives and to the earthlings, had nothing to do with religion. Beliefs and faith and religion of God or Jesus didn't cause the harmful things that happened (which I had been planning on) on the alien planet so they might have all been atheists. The book was more of less about one man's relationship with God.
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After I read the sequel, 'Children of God', I decided both of these are keepers. A different look at God, at differences in humanity, in possibilities. A mission to a newly discovered funded and run by Jesuits-- nuf said.
reviewed The Sparrow on + 3 more book reviews
This books was very thoughtful and interesting. It raises many questions and makes you think about the nature of things in the universe.