Book Review: The Sparrow

Since arriving here in the great northern part of the country that I fondly refer to as “being on vicarage,” I have had much more time to read.  Consequently, I have felt inclined to reread some books that I initially read in college.  I most recently finished reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

A science fiction novel with philosophical and theological undertones, The Sparrow takes us to the near future when humans finally contact an alien race.  We journey with a group of Jesuit priests and their friends who pilot the first mission to this new planet and experience their joys and horrors as they live among “God’s other children.”  Simultaneously, we follow the sole survivor of this mission as he struggles to find God’s will in his nightmarish experiences on the new planet.

Now, I’m not saying this is a great Christian novel full of good Lutheran doctrine.  My copy of the book had an author interview printed at the end in which I discovered Ms. Russell was raised Catholic and converted to Judaism.  There are lots of talk about spirituality and God but she doesn’t talk about what makes Christianity different from other religions–the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In her presentation of religion, “God” can be found in many religions.  Likewise, the story is full of dark horrors, so if you prefer not to read depressing books (which I totally understand) don’t read this.

However, what  I enjoy about The Sparrow is how the story is told with two timelines:  the time after the failed mission and the preparation/execution of the mission.  Despite the fact that the reader knows the crew’s fate at the end of the first chapter, the story is so driving that the details must be known.  Likewise, the characters became real and lovable to me almost immediately and I found myself caring about them even when I knew that there were no happy endings for them.  It also brings up the question that so many of us have:  Where is God when bad things happen?*

In summation, The Sparrow provides bad theology that you should disregard (or just log it away for reference–it never hurts to have a defense prepared for your beliefs) but also a driving plot, interesting timeline, and wonderful characters.

*Not that this question should be answered using the book.  I would recommend asking a pastor/using the Bible for answers.  : D

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