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June 9th, 2010


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04:11 pm - The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
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. --Aeschylus

I just finished Mary Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow. It's every bit as brilliant as I'd been told, but is a much different book than I'd heard. It's not a first-contact story (well, it sort of is, but only in the sense that this is part of the plot; look at the structure and a different theme takes precedence). It's a powerful portrait of the experience of spiritual betrayal.

It's also fairly brutal. I'm not sure I could recommend it for most people, in good conscience. But it is mightily well-written, and you'll never forget these characters once you have encountered them.

(Has anyone else read it? I feel the need to discuss, but do not want to put spoilers in the post itself. Comments are fair game.)
Current Mood: indescribableindescribable

(13 lit candles | Light a candle)

Comments:


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From:astrogirl2
Date:June 10th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
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I have, years ago, and I found it to be an incredibly good, incredibly powerful novel. I don't remember the details of the story, to be honest, but I sure remember how it made me feel, and I believe I do remember crying at some point.

Which may sound odd coming from the hardline atheist, but IMHO the book did something that writers of all religious/political/ideological stripes could learn from. It didn't attempt to sell me on a particular worldview, but instead presented me with a character who happened to have a certain belief system and made me care about him, and thus about his perceptions of his experiences, whether I would have seen things the same way in his place or not. And I don't know about Christian perspectives, but, man, from an atheist's POV the story was incredibly bleak. But in a poignant, moving, very human way. At least, that's the strong impression that it left me with. Excellent, excellent book.
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 10th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
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I cried a couple of times. It is certainly that sort of book; very intense and emotionally accurate. And you're right: it didn't make arguments, it presented you with people, and that's always both more engaging and more...hmmm. More honest, sometimes?

I think--and I'm speaking only for myself, here--I think that from a Christian perspective it is slightly less bleak. By the last page, at any rate. And there are very many Christians whom I think would be utterly appalled or disturbed by it, but I found it very honest.

I'm not about to compare myself to Emilio Sandoz in any direct way, but from early in the book I was constantly furious with the Jesuits conducting the inquiry, not because they were being mean to Emilio but because I'd already figured out the basis for his bitterness and I couldn't believe they were being so unutterably dense. (I only phrased it as feelings of ultimate betrayal, at the point. Emilio himself got much more...vulgar, with his metaphor.)
[User Picture]
From:astrogirl2
Date:June 10th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
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And you're right: it didn't make arguments, it presented you with people, and that's always both more engaging and more...hmmm. More honest, sometimes?

Yeah, I think "honest" is a pretty good word.
[User Picture]
From:scionofgrace
Date:June 10th, 2010 01:42 am (UTC)
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I think I may have to pick that up. Your description is intriguing.
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:June 10th, 2010 05:42 am (UTC)
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Fair warning. I mean it when I say it's brutal.

But you might find a lot to love (and ponder) in it.
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From:ladybrick
Date:June 11th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
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I read that in my grad sci-fi class, actually. Though I've forgotten most of it.
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 11th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
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This does not surprise me. The sci-fi class part, at least. :)
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From:tree_and_leaf
Date:June 11th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
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I've read it too, though quite a long time ago. A very good novel, though indeed absolutely grueling.
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 14th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
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Have you read the sequel, Children of God? Part of really wants to read it, but unless it's just as good or better, well, I don't want to spoil my experience of The Sparrow. :)

I tried reading various people's reviews of Sparrow, and was quite taken aback by the fact that so many didn't seem to get that even the structure is about Emilio's spiritual journey. They actually thought it was a cautionary scifi story, or a "philosophical" story about unintended consequences. Hmmm.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 14th, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
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I've read the sequel, but I can't remember much of what I thought of it. It's more of a follow-up of what happened on the planet as a result of the expedition's actions. Unexpected but logical consequences.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:June 13th, 2010 01:36 am (UTC)
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"Brilliant but brutal" is a good way of describing it. It's like Schindler's List that way: absolutely brilliant and heartrending and impressive - and I never want to see it again.
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From:izhilzha
Date:June 14th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
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I think someday I will read it again, partly to see how I react to this particular story from a different place in my life. But that won't be for rather a long while, yeah.

eta: I just noticed your icon. This would be one of the "sword" type, I think.

Edited at 2010-06-14 09:33 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:June 14th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
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This would be one of the "sword" type, I think.
Yeah, that thought did cross my mind when I chose the icon.

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