You guys. I am re-reading The Sparrow (which I’ve wanted to do since I first read it) and am falling in love with Mary Doria Russell all over again. There are all of these allusions and dropped hints that I’m picking up now. I just want to fist-bump MDR every time for her wicked foreshadowing and suspense building (because, I was totally up until 1 AM reading last night and I already knows what’s going to happen…).
You can read more about it in my earlier review, but The Sparrow is about a group of Jesuit missionaries, along with some citizens, who venture out into space after hearing radio transmissions of a strange music coming from an alien planet. The story is told episodically–we bounce back and forth between an interview with the lone survivor of the voyage and the story of the journey as it happens.
Once again, I am astounded by Russell’s ability to ask big questions without coming off as preachy. The descent into the center of the story itself is tragic, but she brings us closer every time with just a little bit more hope, just a touch greater sense of the divine–whether in man or in the gods. She layers this with some touching questions about the nature of exploration and whether or not an act done for good reasons can still create evil.
I’m pairing The Sparrow with A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. because they both deal with an apocalypse of sorts–whether of the soul or society.
Miller’s is a mad novel, ripping us through a post-apocalyptic future told in short vignettes. Just as we become acquainted with one period of that time, he drags us into the next–many times hundreds of years later. Our sense of instability is mirrored, no doubt, by the instability of this future where all of our knowledge has been lost, only the smallest traces of one St. Leibowitz the Engineer remaining to guide humanity. For how long and to what good is not entirely answered by the end.
The Sparrow and A Canticle for Leibowitz both end with a flicker of hope. In Canticle, like The Sparrow, that hope is in sending out missionaries to a distant planet in hopes of colonizing and continuing the human race. In The Sparrow, it is in the small flicker of life we still see in Emilio, the remaining survivor.
In both, we are left with this idea, from Miller’s: “It is not the pain that is pleasing to God, child. It is the soul’s endurance in faith and hope and love in spite of bodily afflictions that pleases Heaven.” What a reader will come away with after these novels depends, but read together, these two novels can stretch a person’s idea of faith and hope and goodness.
Have you read either of these novels? What would you pair with them?