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The Sparrow

A Novel

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


A visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry, The Sparrow tells the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a scientific mission entrusted with a profound task: to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, but a series of small misunderstandings brings it to a catastrophic end.
Praise for The Sparrow
“A startling, engrossing, and moral work of fiction.”The New York Times Book Review
“Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them.”Entertainment Weekly
“Powerful . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence.”San Francisco Chronicle
“Provocative, challenging . . . recalls both Arthur C. Clarke and H. G. Wells, with a dash of Ray Bradbury for good measure.”The Dallas Morning News
“[Mary Doria] Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense.”USA Today

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 02, 1996 – An enigma wrapped inside a mystery sets up expectations that prove difficult to fulfill in Russell's first novel, which is about first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The enigma is Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist whose messianic virtues hide his occasional doubt about his calling. The mystery is the climactic turn of events that has left him the sole survivor of a secret Jesuit expedition to the planet Rakhat and, upon his return, made him a disgrace to his faith. Suspense escalates as the narrative ping-pongs between the years 2016, when Sandoz begins assembling the team that first detects signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, and 2060, when a Vatican inquest is convened to coax an explanation from the physically mutilated and emotionally devastated priest. A vibrant cast of characters who come to life through their intense scientific and philosophical debates help distract attention from the space-opera elements necessary to get them off the Earth. Russell brings her training as a paleoanthropologist to bear on descriptions of the Runa and Jana'ata, the two races on Rakhat whose differences are misunderstood by the Earthlings, but the aliens never come across as more than variations of primitive earthly cultures. The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up. Much like the worlds it juxtaposes, this novel seems composed of two stories that fail to come together. BOMC, QPB and One Spirit Book Club selections.

Customer Reviews

Amazing novel.

This is, perhaps, the best book I have read. It is not only beautifully written and engaging, but thought provoking. This book, and its sequel "Children of God" are the only books I actually crave to re-read.

The story intertwines science, religion, humanity, linguistics, society, justice, love, joy, grief and pain with characters the reader cares about. Because this book covers such a broad spectrum of subjects, I've found it difficult to convey to my friends and family why they should spend the time to read this story. The description mentions extraterrestrial life, but it is not an illogical sci-fi story. It deals with solid issues using the backdrop of another civilization where the rules for life are different. The mixing of societies with widely varied social norms leads to the readers realization of amazing concepts and eagerness to devour the story.


I don't read that often and when I do it has to be great. This book was AWESOME!
Reading it more than once still gave the the same chills, smiles and tears. Don't think, just buy it.

100 Words or Less

There are many things to like about Russell’s novel.

It’s a realistic look at space exploration. It’s filled with clever ideas behind alien civilization. The way it builds suspense throughout the first half of the novel is really good.

However, the key words “first half of the novel” does not bode well. That’s because the deeper I got, the more the plot and characters lost their edge.

Oh, it’s a good novel. Well written, well thought out. It has some great moments. But a few missteps here and there unfortunately change a great novel into something that is merely good.

The Sparrow
View in iTunes
  • $10.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Sep 09, 1996
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 528 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings