The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

I read this book months ago, and when I developed a backlog  — or just didn’t feel like blogging — I was comfortable leaving it until later because I knew it would stick with me.

Russell writes in very different styles. I first discovered her when I read Dreamers of the Day, which is historical fiction, perhaps with a twist. One thing that baffled me was the online reviews by angry readers who lashed out as if they’d been betrayed. Dreamers of the Day was excellent and remains one of my favorites, so this made no sense to me. It was only after I finally read The Sparrow and went to the Wikipedia entry on Russell that the hostile reviews had context: The Sparrow is a sci-fi classic, one of the great books of that genre, and people who had read it and its sequel were expecting more of the same. While I understand their point of view, I admire Russell for writing the books she wanted to write rather than those she was expected to write. 

The Sparrow is brilliant and shocking and amazing, and deals with the issue of first contact. Father Emilio Sandoz returns to earth as the only survivor of an expedition to a planet, Rakhat, that has been broadcasting astonishingly beautiful music, which we have picked up. While on Rakhat, Sandoz’s hands were destroyed in a mysterious surgery, and psychologically he appears unbalanced. The book alternates chapters between the story of what happened on Rakhat and what Sandoz reveals on his return. Why and how did the other seven in his crew — including a doctor and her engineer husband, an astronomer, a computer expert with a terrible childhood, and other Jesuit priests — die on Rakhat? Who did they encounter, and why did the encounter seem so benign at first? And what is the meaning of the music? Russell’s answers embed additional questions, the main one being “how do we know who to trust?”

I strongly recommend this book.

As for animal lovers, there’s not much, what with the different types of sentient beings on the two planets. Early on, a reference to a dog adds dimension to the back story of a character’s childhood, and there’s a small animal discovered on Rakhat and never mentioned again. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

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March 23, 2010 - Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews | ,

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