Book Review for The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell
This book was a masterpiece of storytelling.
Weaving together themes of faith, hope, love, adventure, mystery, and exploration, Russel tells the story of a band of pioneers who journey across the galaxy to make first contact with a newly discovered alien species.
Summoned by picking up radio transmits of music, the group is made up of Jesuits, Atheists, and a Jew. But they are more than that… they are a close knit family unit brought together by God, or at the very least by Emilio, the world renowned linguist Jesuit priest.
Not needing anyone’s permission, this group travels via an asteroid in our very near future to find the source of the Alien Singers and perhaps find God along the way.
The story is told on two parallel tracks through Emilio, who has returned to Earth alone, his body and his faith bearing the marks of the violence and horrors that are hard to imagine. As he heals, he slowly tells the story of the fateful mission to his fellow priests. At the same time, Russell uses flashbacks to round out Emilio’s story, to give us background on all the party members, and to bridge the gap of what he can and cannot articulate. The effect is a seamless quilting together of an epic story full of believable characters and profound truths.
Unlike a lot of science fiction, this book focuses more on the characters and their development than technology or setting. The result is that even though there are things like interstellar space travel, the story feels as if it could be happening right now to people you might actually know and better yet, care about. There are aspects of any first contact scenario be it on an alien world or settlers from one country interacting with natives in another. Russel takes the time to gently make socially driven points about the value of language and balance in nature, but these messages are subtle and don’t overwhelm the story.
Again, this book is a masterpiece of storytelling… more than any other book I have read this year, I highly recommend The Sparrow.