Review: The Sparrow


  • Author: Mary Doria Russell
  • ISBN: 9780449912553
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction

I purchased this book.

I’ve managed to pull myself out of the emotional wreckage this book caused in order to write this review.  I considered not writing one, but this book is truly great.  I don’t know if it will continue to stand the test of time, but even with a small part of the story occurring in 2015, the technology still seems marginally possible.  This is a work of Science Fiction, though, so I had to be forgiving of the “science”.

Putting the science and technology aside (which is easy to do since the story is about the characters and their experiences interacting with the aliens they come in contact with), this book is difficult.  It took me several months to finish, and not just because I was reading five other books at the time.  It ran me through a wringer emotionally, so I had to repeatedly put the book down for a bit so I could process what I was feeling and thinking.  You quickly discover that Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest, is the only survivor of the mission to make contact with an alien species, and something horrible was done to him, but you don’t really know what.  Clearly, he’s suffering from PTSD, survival guilt, and a whole laundry list of physical health issues, but it’s through the back and forth between the present and the past that you very slowly find out exactly what happened and why.  You don’t know the full extent of the horrors until near the end.  Much of Emilio’s thoughts and emotions hit far too close to home, and I bookmarked several passages so that I could go back later to re-read them.  In a way, his story was therapeutic, but as anyone who’s ever been through any mental or physical therapy knows, it’s rough going.  It’s never easy, and many of the characters who are trying to help Emilio recover from his experiences don’t seem to understand that, in much the same way as most people don’t understand just how difficult it is to deal with mental health issues.

I highly recommend The Sparrow, but not necessarily to just those who enjoy Science Fiction.  Rather, this book is more for anyone who loves Speculative Fiction or Literary Fiction.  Please understand that the story may take a long time to get through, though, and I recommend having something light and easy to read for when you need a break, or for when you’ve finished this book, in order to balance things back out.  I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which did the trick and kept me from getting deeply depressed.