Flight of the Sparrow
A Novel of Early America
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson was captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people.
Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.
Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meanings of freedom, faith, and acceptance.
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED
Praise For Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America…
“Breathes life into a vital but oft-neglected chapter of our history. Amy Belding Brown has turned an authentic drama of Indian captivity into a compelling, emotionally gripping tale that is at once wrenching and soulful.”—*Eliot Pattison, author of the Mystery of Colonial America series
“A mesmerizing tale of survival and awakening...The deftly depicted cross cultural friendship reminded me of Caleb’s Crossing and the fast-paced story kept me up turning pages.”—Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat and The Rebel Pirate
“Brown’s voice transforms a remote period into a fresh and immediate world and, in Mary, gives us a heroine who is broken by sorrow but determined to survive. This is a novel about the true meaning of faith and freedom.”—Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Island of Doves and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
“The story of Mary Rowlandson is the story of one of the darkest episodes in our nation’s history, and yet Amy Belding Brown manages to turn it into a soaring tale of light and hope…The Flight of the Sparrow reminds us of the promise of America and that the fulfillment of that promise relies on every human heart.”—Sally Cabot Gunning, author of Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard, The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke
“In this amazingly written and deeply researched book, Amy Belding Brown delivers 17th-century Massachusetts to the reader with a prose that springs from the page and wraps you in wonder. Flight of the Sparrow showcases the author’s imagination bound by her dedication to historical fact....This is a book for both readers of literary fiction as well as those who love a well-researched work of historical fiction.”—Historical Novel Society
Praise for Mr. Emerson’s Wife
“Amy Belding Brown has brought her back to life in a novel that glitters with intelligence and authenticity.”—Geraldine Brooks, author of March
“In this extraordinary book, Amy Belding Brown has brought the nineteenth century to life...A soaring imaginative leap, this book combines detailed history with a page-turning illicit love story. It’s a look at a rich moment in American history and a great read, a rare combination.”—Susan Cheever, author of My Name Is Bill and Note Found in a Bottle
“A beautiful work...It is quite refreshing to see that ambition backed up with a quality of writing that bears up to the weight of its subject matter.”—Bret Lott, author of Jewel and A Song I Knew by Heart
Berkley, 9780451466693, 368pp.
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
What was your overall response to the novel? What did you feel? What did you learn?
Discuss Mary Rowlandson’s relationships with the three men in her life—Joseph, James, and Samuel. What does she give and what does she receive from each relationship?
Mary Rowlandson lives in a society ruled by men in which women were allowed few of the freedoms that we take for granted today. Identify those constraints, discuss how they might have helped or hurt the Bay Colony’s survival, and discuss how women might have found meaning in life despite them.
As an Indian captive, Mary feels freed from the constraint of “mutual watch,” the “relentless scrutiny of each other’s conduct required of all church members.” Discuss the idea of mutual watch as it plays out in the novel, and what it might be like to live under such a system. Can you think of any modern-day equivalents?
Mary experiences both cruelty and kindness at the hands of her Indian captors. Compare their behavior toward her to the cruelty and kindness shown her by her husband, Joseph, and other members of English society.
Discuss the various forms that freedom and imprisonment take in the novel. What role does the sparrow play in the author’s exploration of those ideas?
While living with the Indians Mary begins to find beauty, peace, and sacred mystery in the wilderness. How does she initially view the natural world and what inspires this change? Compare her experience of the natural world to your own.
Mary becomes convinced that slavery and physically punishing her children are wrong, and she stands up to her husband Joseph on these issues. What makes her so sure she is correct to reject them? Is mere conviction enough, or is something else required?
James Printer tells Mary, “We have both bought our redemption at a terrible price.” And Mary realizes that she felt redeemed when she followed the promptings of her heart. Discuss the many meanings of redemption in the novel.
The Puritan worldview differs markedly from our own. Discuss their beliefs as they relate to God’s love and punishment, child rearing, grief, the infectious nature of sin, slavery, obedience to authority, and salvation. In what ways are these ideas still part of current thought and practice? In what ways have our thinking changed?
Because their exposure to another culture has changed their beliefs and perceptions, both Mary and James feel estranged from their original people. Have you ever felt estranged from your own “group of origin”? Care to share your experience?
Have you read other “captivity narratives,” either those from previous centuries or those written by recent, contemporary captives (such as Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard)? How do they compare with Mary Rowlandson’s story?
What do you most admire about Mary? What makes her story relevant today?
What do you hope to remember about this novel six months or a year from now? Do you think that some part of it will remain with you for even longer than that?