The Sparrow; Mary Doria Russell; ISBN:xxx
In The Sparrow, Mary Russell has created a vivid and all too realistic world. Set in the twenty-first century, spanning about forty years, this book about first contact, priests and above all, the human soul is by turns funny, moving and heart-rendering.
The story concerns the detection of radio signals from another world, later to be known as Rakhat, and the sending of a mission to this world by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Father Emilio Sandoz is the only one to return from this planet, and he returns a broken man.
The book is split into two timezones. The first traces the detection of the signals and follows Father Sandoz and his friends in their attempts to reach Rakhat. The second is set after Father Sandoz's return from Rakhat and traces his attempts to 'rebuild' his soul after the events that took place on Rakhat. It is the differences between these two people (it's difficult to think of them as the same person) that, for me at least, provides much of the tension in the book.
Russell has woven an amazing tale that is wonderfully written and has the reader hanging on every word. This is a page-turner in the best sense of the word. The author has managed to create a large set of sympathetic characters whose lives you really become entangled with and who you really do start to care about.
The Sparrow is a very powerful book. It plays on your emotions, forcing you to almost feel the characters' pain and by the end, I found myself completely emotionally drained. It is so rare for a book to have this kind of power that when one does come by, it completely takes you by surprise.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. True, It helps to know about the Christian faith (there were several times when I felt that I was missing a point because it was wrapped in a religious metaphor that I didn't understand), but even someone like me, whose knowledge of religion is limited to say the least, The Sparrow was a wonderful read.