I finished “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell last week. It took me the entire weekend to decide how I felt about this book. It has been quite some time since a book left me so confused and with so much on my mind. I eventually came to decide that was a good thing.
In an earlier post about “A Wrinkle in Time”, I mentioned that I was reading “The Sparrow” and was super excited about it and that was true. This book was fascinating. It pulled me into it in a way that is unique and unusual. This was definitely one of the most interesting and engrossing books I’ve read in a long time. One of the more interesting I’ve ever read. In fact, I was so interested in what happens next, that I devoured the first half of the book, rushing and pushing to learn more. And then about halfway through I forced myself to slow, to try and savor the rest of the book.
So why did it take me so long to decide how I felt about it?
Because it was hard.
The book wasn’t hard in a technical sense. It was a slower read than many books, because of the depth and excellent storytelling. But, it was hard in an emotional sense. You become really involved in the incredibly well developed characters and then terrible things happen to everyone.
Don’t worry. That isn’t a surprise.
The story is about the failed mission to Rakhat. One day an astronomer hears music over a satellite feed and realizes it is from a foreign world. A decision is made to send an expedition to that world. The story is about that mission, but the mission is told through the framework of an interview with the sole survivor, Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest.
Now before this book gets discounted as spacey sci-fi fiction silliness, I want to stop you. The book is a fascinating story about faith, religion, love, and the question of what makes a family. What brought all the people on the mission to that place? Was it God’s plan? Divine intervention? Was it random chance? And if it was God’s plan to take them there, why did things happen like they did?
My issue with this book is that even though I knew the story was going to turn downhill, I had no idea how far it would go. How bleak things would get for these characters that I had come to love. It is hard to love a book when the author says that the moral of the story is that, even if you do the best you can, sometimes you get screwed.
But after much inner debate, I think I love the book anyways. As soon as I finished it, I called my aunt who had recommended it and asked how she could love such a book. I was sad and frustrated when I finished. Luckily, it was a day or two until I got her on the phone. In that time I was able to grab hold of the tentative peace at the end of the book. I realized that maybe it is more hopeful than I initially thought.
When I got a hold of her, my aunt told me that I need to read the sequel to appreciate the full story. I started it yesterday. I’m excited to see what happens after the end of “The Sparrow”. Excited to continue this terribly well written saga.
And, I’m excited to recommend this to everyone. You might love it. You might hate it. But, you will certainly think about it. It will certainly impact you. And it will very likely be one of the best science fiction works you’ve read.