The Sparrow Read-A-Long: Midway Check In


I want to thank Trish at Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity for organizing The Sparrow read-a-long. It gave me the opportunity to read this book that I’ve heard so much about in the past year, but had yet to read. In fair warning to all of you, I finished the book over the weekend – I literally couldn’t put it down – but this post will be entirely spoiler free.

There are a number of things that crossed my mind while reading The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. Here we go:

  • I consider myself to be rather well-read and up on all things literary. I’ve been reading book reviews in magazines and newspapers since I was in high school. So how is it that I had never heard of The Sparrow until about a year and a half ago? Was I living under a rock? It was originally published in 1996 and it took me 16 years to hear about it in spite of having won a number of awards? And since then Russell has been nominated for the Pulitzer and I still didn’t know who she was! Part of the problem may be that The Sparrow has been classified as a Science Fiction novel. To me, and many others, this does not quite seem right. Yes, it is about space travel, but really it is a literary and deeply philosophical novel. What Margaret Atwood would call speculative fiction.
  • The Sparrow is largely set in 2019 and 2060. I love Russell’s vision of the future. For having been written before 1996, it is really quite prescient. In particular, Russell seems to have anticipated the rise of the IPad and it’s ubiquity quite accurately. Her future isn’t crazy and techno filled. Instead, she has focused on the humanity of the future. At the end of it all, we are still human.
  • One thing that did bother me about The Sparrow and Russell’s vision of the future was he adherence to traditional gender roles. Every time she mentioned that Anne and Sofia were preparing a meal I wanted to scream. I understand that some women like cooking, but some men like it too. Why were the women always the ones cooking?!? And also, the sole nurturing character on the mission (Anne) was a woman. At one point she is described as feeling too much. Very valid and true, and yet I want to imagine a future where men can also be viewed and described as nurturers. Although Russell plays with gender a little bit in the alien culture, roles are still determined along gender lines. It seems to me that somewhere in the universe roles should be assigned based on skills, knowledge and proficiency. It only makes sense.

I have much more to say about The Sparrow, but I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. I would love to hear from anyone can remember the reception this book received when it came out, and who read it at that time.



  1. I had no idea there was a read-along going on for this book. I’ve had it in my to-read pile since reading her other book A Thread of Grace. Oh well, I guess it will remain there for a little while more, at least. It’s good to know you liked it so much. It certainly is getting a lot of attention right now. I love that an older book can make a comeback and get almost as much attention as the newer ones.

  2. I hadn’t given much thought to the gender roles of who was doing the cooking. I do recall a few scenes where Emilio and some of the other guys were doing dishes and whatnot, because their “work” skill set wasn’t in use at that particular time. I’ll be watching out for this in the 30% I’ve got left to read!

  3. I hadn’t heard of this one until about six months ago when it seemed that many of my favorite bloggers were reading it. If Andi hadn’t raved about it, I’d probably still be in the dark! Crazy crazy. And yes, I agree with the sci-fi classification. I posted a description of the book on my very first readalong post and so many people said it didn’t sound like something they’d enjoy but I disagree now that I”m halfway through (and yes, I’m back to reading it again!). It’s like calling Blind Assassin by Atwood sci-fi.

    In terms of the nurturing. I don’t know. After seeing the differences in me and my husband (who’s pretty sensitive), I think some of the nurturing really is innate. I really truly think that we are wired differently. But that’s a story for a different day. 😉

  4. I’d like to weigh in on the Nurturing Female issue. You have to remember I wrote The Sparrow in 1992-3. By that time, I’d been a hardcore feminist for decades, a Ph.D. anthropologist who taught human gross anatom and who took no crap from anybody.

    But I had also recently become a mother, and for me the big struggle was to allow myself to be soft and nurturing. Anne Edwards was an aspirational figure for me. I wanted to imagine how a smart, competent professional could also be motherly and warm. Sofia, of course, reads much tougher — writing her drew directly on my experiences in the workplace.

    • Thank you so much for reading and responding to my post. I appreciate where you are coming from. I think it is still difficult for women in any work place to express both halves of themselves – the tough as nails, serious academic, business person, doctor etc with a softer more caring outlet. The sad truth is we have to develop a tough persona in order to be taken seriously in many fields.But, perhaps naively, I still want to dream about a time and place where that isn’t necessary.

      Also, in spite of what I’ve said about Anne being characterized as the sole nurturing character, she was the character I most closely related to and the one I would want to be friends with. And based on the discussions I’ve had with others, she is everyone’s favorite character.

  5. Pingback: The Sparrow Read-a-Long Wrap Up | 52 books or bust

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