I stumbled on The Sparrow from a tweet by Erik Westra. Erik is gold when it comes to books. I read and loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena on his recommendation.
Like ACoVP, The Sparrow is a beautiful and poignant novel which tells the story of a family made, not chosen. A disparate set of earthlings travel light years to the Alpha Centauri system in a bid to find intelligent life — the singers they interpret via radio signals on earth.
When the travelers, (Emilio Sandoz — Jesuit priest/linguist, Dr. Anne Edwards and her engineer husband George Edwards, Sofia Mendes, an artificial intelligence expert, astronomer Jimmy Quinn, music expert Alan Pace, botanist Marc Robichaux, and their leader, D.W. Yarbourgh, the Father Superior) arrive on Rakhat — a beautiful planet with three suns — they encounter the Runa, a species of nonviolent gatherers based in Kashan. Supaari VaGaygur, a third-born Jana’ata merchant, supervises trade in the Kashan region.
This book is so beautiful in so many ways: the anthropological exploration of Runa and Jana’ata as species, their respective societies, and cultural norms is fascinating. You almost feel as though you’re a silent participant on the scientific mission. The characters are exceptionally well drawn; they’re complex and conflicted and beautifully flawed. It’s the relationships between the humans — how they eventually drop their masks to embrace their plight on Rakhat and surrender to one another — and to love — that’s most satisfying.
While this book is about exploration and the search for alien sentience, faith is the dominating theme.
The Sparrow explores faith and the opposite of faith — despair — the state of being in which the faithful feels that God has abandoned them. Emilio Sandoz suffers a crisis of faith, questioning why a just and loving God would allow the cruelty, depravity, and brutality he suffers on Rakhat. It’s only through a harrowing confession that as a reader you must bear witness to, that you begin to understand Emilio’s despair and God’s part in it.
This book is a about predators and prey, the helpful and the helpless, about how in extreme cases we must be completely stripped bare — become naked before God — in order to regain our humanity.
“So God just leaves?” John asked, angry where Emilio had been desolate. “Abandons creation? You’re on your own, apes. Good luck!”
“No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us and remembering.”
“Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,” Vincenzo Giuliani said quietly. “‘Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it.'”
“But the sparrow still falls,” Felipe said.
In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
I read this book twice, back-to-back. It’s worth your time.
March — April, 2015