Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

One of the best books I've ever read in my life. I thought about just not writing any more in this review because what else is there to say, really? But some of you might still need some convincing, so here we go...

In the year 2019 a group of friends, one of whom works at the Arecibo Radio Telescope, receives a radio transmission from another galaxy indicating that sentient beings exist there. This group of friends is made up primarily of an astronomer, a linguist/priest, a retired engineer, a practicing physician, and a woman who systematizes complex tasks for artificial intelligence (she's wicked smart). The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) add a few members to the team and catapult this ragtag group of friends off to the planet Rakhat to make contact with the aliens. 

And more. SO MUCH MORE! The book is told in three parts:

  • 2019--when they receive the signal and plan the mission
  • 20-something--17 years have passed on Earth while they travel to Rakhat, but a much shorter time has passed for them on the ship. They land and live on the alien planet. 
  • 2060--Emilio Sandoz, the priest and linguist around which this story really revolves, makes it back to Earth, but he's the mission's only survivor and he's utterly broken.
It's an incredibly complicated plot. There's a lot going on, but I never had a hard time understanding what was happening. The truth and the meat of the journey is doled out a bit at a time until we understand Sandoz's full experience and trauma in the final pages of the book. There is just so much going on...
  • Issues of science
  • Issues of culture
  • Problems of faith
  • Questions of morality and intention
At its center it's about a group of friends and their goodness and their best intentions. But sometimes our best intentions set off chain reactions that change everything. Emilio Sandoz's story is the whole group's story. His survival is cruel and a plague to his mind, body, and soul. His journey is one of the best damn stories I've ever read. 

Just read it. I could gush for eternity. And if you haven't watched my BookTube review, I'm actually much better-spoken in it. Surprise!


Pub. Date: September 1997
Publisher: Random House
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780449912553
Source: Bought it. 



37 comments:

  1. What an endorsement! I've had a copy of this for a while, but then my husband raved about it (and we've never loved the same book before!) so I was put off. Could it be the only book we both love? Your gushing has encouraged me to put it closer to the top of the pile.

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    1. I love that you chose not to read it because your husband liked it! lol That's the way I feel about books my mom reads. I hope you love this one if you decide to try!

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  2. This sounds like a must read!!

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  3. Obviously this belongs on my list!!

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    1. YES, it does! I assure you. lol

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  4. I loved your vlog, but this is also a great review. This is a lifetime favorite!!

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    1. Thanks, Les! So glad to have finally read this one.

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  5. Wow, you've made me want to give this one a try. Glad to know you weren't ever confused, because the summary made it sound way over my head. ;)

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    1. It does sound confusing re: summary, but the book is very nicely paced and it's clear as things unfold how they fit together.

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  6. Ah...this brings it all back! Emilio, one of my all time favorite characters. Such a gut-wrenching story. Do you plan to read the sequel? It's worth it, but not as powerful as this first one.

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    1. Isn't he amazing? Just love Emilio. I do plan to read the sequel, but I'm glad some of you bookish friends have tempered my expectations.

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  7. I know a lot of people love this one but for some reason, it's never appealed to me before. Now I am intrigued. And to think that I passed on this one the last time I was at Half-Price. Argh!

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    1. I put it off for 10 years, so I understand. I hope you decide to give it a go!

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    2. Oh, and I just got a copy of the sequel from Powells.com (used) for $1.95!

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  8. Putting this on the official TBR right now. I've never heard you gush so much!

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  9. You totally made me want to read this even more now. I've had several people recommend it, even though it's little outside my usual suspects. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for a copy!

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    1. Woohooo! Enabling I go! It's super high quality writing. I think you'll totes dig it.

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  10. You totally made me want to read this even more now. I've had several people recommend it, even though it's little outside my usual suspects. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for a copy!

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  11. I too loved this book so much more than I expected. It did not make your list above, but I loved its commentary on colonization, even when accidental, and the effect that it can have on other cultures. It was amazing.

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    1. Right?? And I do love its statements about colonization. So so important.

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  12. Wow. You are making me look at books I have never heard of and genres I don't usually dip into in a different way.
    Thinking about it.
    Barbara

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    1. I'm glad!!! I hope you like it if you decide to try it!

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  13. I want to reread this: if for nothing else, then for the fact that it has religious characters who aren't caricatures. I don't know if that's as rare as it's been seeming to me recently, but in any case it feels like a refreshing thing that I want.

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    1. I've read quite a few books lately with these types of themes that don't strike me as caricatures, but I don't think it's common. Unfortunately.

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  14. I loved The Sparrow when I read it three and a half years ago. I'm so glad to see you felt the same way!

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    1. I just adored it. Can't say enough good things about it.

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  15. I felt this same way when I read The Sparrow and really should reread it now. My husband and I both really liked it and went on to read The Children of God. We only overlap on certain books, but it's always nice when we do! He also read a couple of her historical fiction novels, but I haven't.

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    1. It's one I know I'll re-read in the future at some point. It's just too good not to revisit it.

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  16. This is a friend of mine's favorite book. And I actually have it on my shelf. I'm just so hesitant because I really don't like futuristic stuff in general. But now you endorse it too? Ok, ok. I have to read it.

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    1. While it has some advanced science included, it didn't feel particularly futuristic or science fictiony at all. I think you'll dig it.

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  17. I looked after your video about it,and my library has this as an e-copy, so I'm going to try to use it as a reward for finishing my online class test! I'm excited about it!

    Katy @ a blighted one

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    1. YAY!!! I hope you love it!

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  18. I also loved a lot this book. You need to read the sequel now, a bit more positive thinking on humanity: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16948.Children_of_God?from_search=true
    I actually love everything by Mary Doria Russell, scifi or HF, she is such an amazing writer

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  19. Such a good book, I sobbed during reading it.

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  20. One of my all-time faves also and every year I think it's time for a re-read but I never get to it. She is a local author so I've heard her speak a few times at signing s and libraries. She's a smart cookie. I was less in love with the sequel but if you've read this one it really is a must read since the story continues.

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