24 Following


Currently reading

A Creature of Moonlight
Rebecca Hahn
Saffron And Brimstone: Strange Stories
Elizabeth Hand
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Lois McMaster Bujold
Snow in May: Stories
Kseniya Melnik
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest, has returned from humanity' first
mission to contact aliens - the sole survivor. A broken man, both
physically mutilated and psychologically tormented, he refuses to
speak about his experiences. But rumor spread years before his return,
and he has become a pariah. Did he not destroy the integrity of an
alien culture, introducing forbidden concepts? Did he not betray all
his moral standards, sinking into debauchery and inter-species
prostitution? Did he?
Flashbacks show us the beginnings of the mission: the discovery of
indescribably beautiful song-messages from Alpha Centauri, and how the
Church was the first to acquire the financing to send a mission to the
stars. We learn of Sandoz' early life - how he grew up a tough kid in
the slums, but found a true calling as a priest and a brilliant
linguist. We see the formation of the mission and its goals - and
nothing indicates how Sandoz, seemingly a good, moral, and truly
dedicated man, could have sunk to the depths that it is alleged that
he did... slowly, the truth unravels, and horrific truths are
An extremely well-crafted and deservedly multi-award-winning book,
with a lot of thought-provoking issues explored.
My only issue with the book is that it completely ignores (or expects
that the reader knows) the history of the Jesuits. Russell obviously
did a lot of research into the order and they are believably and
lovingly portrayed: too lovingly. It would seem impossible to tell
this story without reference to the actual, historical record of the
Jesuits and "first contact" with the cultures of the Americas. (Where
they certainly did interfere, and with frequently disastrous, if
arguably well-intentioned, results.) But not one character seems to
consider the issues of their current dilemma in that context, which
seems unlikely, and the ethical questions inherent in "missionary
work" are not directly considered. It is clear that Russell expects
her readers to be able to infer such questions, but I still feel
overall that the book is too sympathetic to missionaries in general.