Book Review: The Sparrow

Posted on September 21, 2012 by


This is a review of The Sparrow, a novel by Mary Doria Russell, 432 pages.

I was wandering through my normal haunts in the bookstore and I came across “The Sparrow”.  It’s only because of the plot that it ended up in the SciFi/Fantasy area, and I’m grateful that it did.  I’ve been looking for well-written books with a bit more depth to them, and this fit the bill.

The plot and the SciFi aspects of the story (a group of extremely random people travels to another star and attempts to set up commuication with the natives) are the least important parts of this book.  If you’re looking for a rollicking story and great adventure – keep looking.  The plot exists to plumb the depths of the characters of the protagonists, and character is what Russell excels at writing.    The SciFi aspects are even more laughable – I’ve read plenty of space-exploration stories, and there is no way anyone would send *this* group anywhere, and certainly not as a first-contact group.   If you are able to ignore that as a means to an end – do keep reading.  (I’m a reader who cares primarily about character, so this was heavenly for me).

This is not an easy book to read.  The protagonists have dark pasts, and you walk through dark days with them.  That said, this isn’t a Russian novel.  The arc of character development of the central character is well worth the angst you experience along the way.  There are great spiritual battles for the heart and for the soul.  As Russell choses to reveal the ultimate physical end of the plot – she conceals the spiritual and hearts’ journey until the very end.

Insofar as the theology is concerned – and it is concerned – I am not Catholic, and I can’t say what is and is not correct.  (The surviving protagonist is a Catholic priest – and no, that’s not a plot reveal, you find that out in the first couple of chapters).  However, the struggle for the soul is incredibly well-written, and I was glad to read it.  I was glad to read *anything* that treats a Christian of faith as a real person with real commitments!  That was the prize in this book, at least for me.  Faith treated as something real, something worth striving for, something that affects your actions.

“The Sparrow” is a tragic book, and a triumphal book.  It’s a book full of despair and a book full of hope.  It is well-worth the read, should you be so inclined.

This review was penned by Hearthrose.  I joined her in reading the book and concur with her review.

Posted in: Book Review