Notes and Study Questions for Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow [1996]

Russell's novel opens in Rome on December 7, 2059 at the Jesuit residence of Number 5 Borgo Santo Spirito and introduces us to Father Emilio Sandoz as the only surviving member of an expedition sent to the planet, Rakhat. He is bruised and maimed, unable to use his hands and unable to withstand being in a room with closed doors. Sequestered by the Jesuits under suspicion of having committed crimes on Rakhat, Sandoz is scheduled to be questioned by members of the Jesuit order and appears to be experiencing a crisis of conscience. After the opening chapter, the novel walks us through the events leading to the mission to Rakhat, then shifts time frames, placing us in Rome, aboard the starship, on Rakhat, and in Naples, Italy in various chapters. These disruptions of linear plot seem to be governed by the author's desire to juxtapose events in these various locations and times, encouraging us to establish thematic and other connections among disparate times and events. As you read the novel, try to note the first significant appearance of each character and consider the issues presented in the entries below.

Here is a list of the significant characters appearing in the first five chapters in the order of their appearance:

Father Emilio Sandoz--The Jesuit priest who is the only surviving member of the Rakhat expedition. He has been badly maimed and is experiencing a crisis of faith that causes him to refuse to discuss his experiences on Rakhat or to defend himself against the charges brought against him.

Vincenzo Giuliani--The Father General of the Society of Jesus who is in charge of Sandoz's inquisition.

Father John Candotti--A Chicago priest who is called in to defend Sandoz in the formal hearings.

Johannes Voelker--The Austrian private secretary to Giuliani who believes that the Society of Jesus would have been better off if Sandoz had been martyred on Rakhat. He is Sandoz's principal antagonist.

Brother Edward Behr--The British Jesuit caretaker of Sandoz.

Peggy Soong--Ex-lover of Jimmy Quinn who is promoting a strike at Aricebo because the Japanese management wants to use a "vulture" to replace them all with software.

Jimmy Quinn--Tall, gangly astronomer who befriends Sandoz and is scheduled to be shadowed by the "vulture," Sofia Mendes.

Masao Yanoguchi--Manager of Aricebo, who hires Sofia Mendes and is pressured by his superiors to cut costs by eliminating workers.

Sofia Mendes--The "vulture" who will shadow Jimmy Quinn, but who had previously attempted to write software to program other Jesuits to learn languages as facilly as Sandoz does. We meet her in chapter five when her relationship with Sandoz in 2014 is depicted.

George Edwards--A retired engineer who serves as a docent at the Aricebo SETI site.

Ann Edwards--A doctor working at the clinic and community center established by Jesuits at La Perla, a slum outside San Juan. She meets Sandoz as a late 50s Latin 101student in a class taught by Sandoz.

Follow this link for a printable Word file containing discussion issues for the novel.