By Mary Doria Russell
(Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780449912553, 448pp.)
Publication Date: September 8, 1997
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"A NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT . . . Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense."
"AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED . . . If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley combination of agnostics, true believers, and misfits becomes the first to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat with both enlightening and disastrous results. . . . Vivid and engaging . . . An incredible novel."
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"POWERFUL . . . Father Emilio Sandoz [is] the only survivor of a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, 'a soul . . . looking for God.' We first meet him in Italy . . . sullen and bitter. . . . But he was not always this way, as we learn through flashbacks that tell the story of the ill-fated trip. . . . The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"SMOOTH STORYTELLING AND GORGEOUS CHARACTERIZATION . . . Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices, and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them."
Mary Doria Russell received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Illinois-Urbana, her M.A. in Social Anthropology from Northeastern University, and her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor. In the process of earning her degrees, Russell studied linguistics, genetics, anatomy, archaeology, and geology--all of which have found their way into her critically acclaimed debut novel.
Prior to The Sparrow, Russell had only written scientific articles--on subjects ranging from bone biology to cannibalism--and technical manuals for medical equipment as complex as nuclear magnetic resonance scanners. In her own words, she admits, "I had a great time, published a lot of stuff, won a bunch of awards and grants, but eventually got fed up with academia and quit." Making the transition from scientific and technical writing to fiction wasn't easy. Russell estimates, however, that "only about twenty-two anthropologists, world-wide, read my academic publications and nobody reads computer manuals, so I figured that if even just my friends read my novel, I'd be way ahead in terms of readership because I have a lot of friends."
A recent convert to Judaism, Russell has nevertheless maintained a strong connection with the Catholic education of her childhood. Asked why she created such a detailed look at faith in a higher power and religion in her debut novel, Russell explains, "I wanted to evaluate, as an adult, issues that had lain dormant for me since adolescence, to study the religion of my youth, to revisit the source of my values and ethics. That's why I chose to write about men who are collectively among the most admirable and best educated of Catholic priests, the Jesuits. Writing The Sparrow allowed me to weigh the risks and the benefits of a belief in God, to examine the role of religion in the lives of many people."
Mary Doria Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio, ("and likes it very much, thank you") with her husband, Don, and their son, Daniel. She is currently working on the sequel to The Sparrow, titled Children of God.
Excerpts from reviews of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow
"It is science fiction brought back to the project with which it began in
the hands of a writer like Jules Verne: the necessity of wonder, the hope
for moral rectitude, and the possibility of belief."
"Russell's debut novel...focuses on her characters, and it is here that
the work truly shines. An entertaining infusion of humor keeps the book
from becoming too dark, although some of the characters are so clever that
they sometimes seem contrived. Readers who dislike an emphasis on moral
dilemmas or spiritual quests may be turned off, but those who enjoy
science fiction because it can create these things are in for a real
--Science Fiction Weekly
"The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and
--San Francisco Chronicle
"The Sparrow is an incredible novel, for one reason. Though it is
set in the early twenty-first century, it is not written like most science
fiction. Russell's novel is driven by her characters, by their complex
relationships and inner conflicts, not by aliens or technology."
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this
much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future."
--San Antonio Express News
"Two narratives--the mission to the planet and its aftermath four decades
later--interweave to create a suspenseful tale."
--The Seattle Times
"By alternating chapters that dramatize Sandoz's tough-love interrogation
with flashbacks to the mission's genesis, flowering, and tragic collapse,
The Sparrow casts a strange, unsettling emotional spell, bouncing
readers from scenes of black despair to ones of wild euphoria, from the
bracing simplicity of pure adventure to the complicated tangles of
nonhuman culture and politics.--The smooth storytelling and gorgeous
characterization can't be faulted."