The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

A science fiction novel featuring Jesuits in outer space. I mean, what’s not to like?

Seriously though, this is a fascinating novel that is part adventure tale, part philosophical reflection part theodicy.

When Jimmy Quinn discovers a radio transmission from the region of Alpha Centauri it sparks a chase by the Jesuits to muster a team to travel to meet these new children of God. They go, as they have always gone, for the greater glory of God. The story unfolds then in two timezones…the here and now of 2059, when the broken Fr Emilio Sandoz finds a form of healing in his telling of the story. And the ‘then’, on the planet among the ‘aliens’ in the new world. If echoes of ‘The Mission’ are heard this is deliberate I’m sure.

The story is also about the discovery of faith, the loss of faith and it’s rediscovery. It is about the possibility of sustaining faith in the face of the inexplicable and the downright cruel. It is about the place of celibacy and love in relationship with God. It is about the mystery of God in the midst of horrendous suffering.

Basically though I found it an extended meditation on the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:29-31

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

To believe in God is to believe in his good and perfect will, even when it is unbelievable. He even cares for sparrows which are worth no more than half a penny.  And whilst I am comforted by this idea, there is a shadow side in which the sparrow falls.

Just as human beings suffer and die, whose hairs are numbered by God.

This is a compelling novel, even though it is probably a hundred or so pages too long. And it’s a further reminder that fiction which considers the things of faith doesn’t have to come sweetly wrapped in saccharine with a nice tidy ending.

Thanks Olibhear for the recommendation.

0 thoughts on “The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

  1. If you’re going to call me Oilibhéar, at least have the decency to spell it right…
    Ha!… but you can just call me the usual noble name.
    I have the follow-up to The Sparrow too – Children of God. I’ll hand it over to you when next I see you – which hopefully won’t be too long.

  2. Sandie, my spouse, has been telling me to read this for years. I guess I need to. . . Recuperation blessings!

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