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The Sparrow

A Novel

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


The Sparrow is a novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience--the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life--begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly Review

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
  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Sep 09, 1996
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 464 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 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

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