The Sparrow

An excerpt

The Sparrow (Hardcover: Villard, 1998) (Paperback: Fawcentt Books, 1999)

The Sparrow (Hardcover: Villard, 1998) (Paperback: Fawcentt Books, 1999)

It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration.

The United Nations required years to come to a decision that the Society of Jesus reached in ten days. In New York, diplomats debated long and hard, with many recesses and tablings of the issue, whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to contact the world that would become known as Rakhat when there were so many pressing needs on Earth. In Rome, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.

The Society asked leave of no temporal government. It acted on its own principles, with its own assets, on Papal authority. The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately–a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to explain or justify when the news broke several years later.

The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the furthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.

They meant no harm.


Important novels leave deep cracks in our beliefs, our prejudices and our blinders. The Sparrow is one of them. Rating: A.― Entertainment Weekly

The soul-searching nature of the story of The Sparrow, combined with Russell’s incredible grasp of narrative structure and control of character development, make this novel an experience not to be missed.― Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Extraordinary… And what about the Jesuits specifically? In so many ways, the author gets us right, in our attitudes, our training, our activities, our spirituality. How she does this, I do not know… An utterly fascinating story, a book that is hard to put down.― John W. Padberg, SJ, Jesuit Spirituality

A biography of belief… Russell describes much in the lives of individual Jesuits and the order itself with uncanny accuracy and deep affection.― America Magazine

The novel’s prose is exceptionally well-crafted, the characterization exceptionally detailed, the climax exceptionally moving, but it is nevertheless a conscientious science-fiction novel which does not skimp on its careful description of how an interstellar expedition might be mounted. Nor is it in any way a comforting book… Even those who approve of its moral conclusions…will inevitably find much to unsettle them along the route by which those conclusions are attained. The Sparrow is, in essence, a challenging book–which is, in my view, the best kind.― Brian Stableford, Interzone Magazine

An extraordinarily tough-minded novel that challenges the very nature of religious belief… Russell has managed to achieve stunning effects with a first novel.― Locus

Beautiful, sometimes unsettling, always thought-provoking.― Cleveland Plain Dealer

A startling, engrossing, moral work of fiction. ― Colleen McCullough, New York Times Review of Books

A brilliant first novel. ― Kirkus Reviews

The Sparrow is out of this world … deeply humanistic science fiction … fascinating narrative suspense … compelling characters … An intelligently constructed first novel that makes us wonder! ― Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, National Public Radio

Character and style and theme … all come together seamlessly … an extraordinarily assured grasp of science, and of the things that science cannot tell us: things of the heart.― NY Review of Science Fiction

Powerful and ambitious … Tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence.― San Francisco Chronicle

An ingenious and haunting tale… Even when humans venture into space, Russell reminds us, we will continue to struggle with questions of God, the difficulties and ambiguities of human relationships and the hubris that casts the Other into the outer darkness.― Commonweal

An unusual kind of speculative fiction, challenging the heart even more than the mind … harrowing and strangely beautiful.― Christian Science Monitor

A fast-paced yet thought-provoking book that will linger in the reader’s mind weeks and months later.― Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Do you want to share this page with others?