Book Review – The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell



  •    Book: The Sparrow
  •    Author: Mary Doria Russell
  •    Genre: Speculative Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 1996
  •    Read 408-page paperback edition in February 2015.

Book Description:

Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest from Puerto Rico, has a unique talent for building relationships and reflecting his faith to a diverse and poor populace around him.  He has built a mission with a unique blend of people around him.  However, when a friend and astronomer finds evidence of life on a planet in Alpha Centauri, Father Sandoz takes it upon himself to put together a new mission, one that will see a mix of Jesuit priests and technical crew come together to reach out to find the alien life and make first contact.  What this mix of Christians, agnostics, and atheists find on their journey is amazing, powerful, and life-shattering.

Book Review:

Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, this 1996 novel, was structured in a dynamic way by scientist-turned-author Mary Doria Russell.  She alternates from the actual mission dates of the 2020s with the “looking back” and examination period of the 2060s.  These two time periods slowly start to meld together, as we see the people from the 2060s trying to make sense of what happened, and we as the reader start to see more and more of what the characters were thinking in the 2020s when the mission was actually happening.

Overall, Russell has done an excellent job creating a cast of characters who are on the mission together.  They don’t all get along all the time, but they become a team and a family.  Russell provides us with great detail to enable us to bond and connect with the majority of her main cast, and we come to really care about what is happening to them.  The novel becomes extremely powerful as we proceed through it, given Russell has fully developed some dynamic, fascinating characters.

The storyline is also written in a way that provides for a speculative fiction / science fiction tale to be told in a unique way.  Russell takes fairly popular topics for this genre of novel, such as poverty issues and overpopulation of earth in the near future, and first contact with an alien species, and she develops these topics into very unique, new ways.  She utilizes her unique scientific educational background to create an interesting story, and then she combines that with religious overtones and conversations.  The result is a powerful story, with powerful characters.

Russell isn’t afraid to tell a dark story, and we have a combination of happy, amazing times, coupled with horrific, dark realities and results.  Overall, this was an excellent novel, and it really brings the reader into a powerful tale that leaves one thinking long after the last page is turned.

Well done!

Overall: 5 stars out of 5 stars