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.
- 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.